Olli Thomson

On The Newtownards Road

I grew up in Belfast in the 1970’s and 1980’s — not the best of times. The city was divided, with neighbourhoods demarcated by natural barriers like the River Lagan or artificial ones like the many peace walls, over 100 of which still stand, mostly in Belfast.

Neighbourhoods were also marked out by flags, painted kerbstones and murals, often painted on gable end walls. Many, or most, of these murals ‘celebrated’ the alphabet soup of competing paramilitary organisations of the time. Later, with the end of the conflict in Northern Ireland, these murals designed in some respects to intimidate and threaten became an unlikely tourist attraction for curious visitors.

While many of the paramilitary murals remain there have been attempts to persuade our resident artists to move away from depictions of masked men with guns and create a less divisive and less militant style of mural. On a recent trip back to the city I took a walk along the Newtownards Road which runs from the city centre to the eastern suburbs.

The lower part of the Newtownards Road, in particular, is a strongly Loyalist neighbourhood and has an abundance of murals, both old and new. Here are a few of them, photographed on a typically grey and wet Belfast day.

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