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Irish Signs Provoke Passions

Signs honoring St. Patrick, Easter Rising generate strong reactions

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day! On a day when seemingly the whole world turns Irish, it seems appropriate to commemorate Irish signage that has recently made news.

In South Belfast, Northern Ireland, an historically Protestant area, local muralist Ross Wilson painted a series of three, rigid-panel murals that honor the legacy of St. Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint. The murals’ location is significant, because St. Patrick has generally been regarded as a Catholic icon. Northern Ireland’s unfortunately legacy has been centuries of bloodshot incurred through Catholic-Protestant violence — the Catholics wish for Northern Ireland to join the Republic of Ireland, and the Protestant are loyal to Northern Ireland’s inclusion in the United Kingdom. These conflicts reached a fever pitch during the 1970s and early 1980s, in conflicts known as The Troubles, when more than 3,500 people died.

Working with the support of the Greater Village Regeneration Trust and Action for Community Transformation (ACT), Wilson painted the murals to convey St. Patrick’s history and legacy — and remind the area’s Protestants that St. Patrick was linked to their religious heritage as well. Northern Ireland’s First Minister, Arlene Foster, unveiled the mural and said, "This work illustrates clearly how there is more that brings us together as a society than divides us, and is an excellent example of how Northern Ireland can promote [its] shared history together."

In 2013, Wilson also painted over a former two-story-building-sized mural originally painted by the Ulster Volunteer Force, a paramilitary organization that violently feuded with the Irish Republican Army and other pro-Catholic factions. He replaced it with a mural that honored King William III of England, also known as the Prince of Orange. The painting over of Troubles-era, pro-violence murals has become common in both Catholic and Protestant sections of Belfast. Schoolchildren at South Belfast’s Donegal Road Primary School contributed their own painted panels depicting St. Patrick’s face in numerous hues.

This year is also significant in Ireland’s history because it marks the centennial of the Easter Rising, when Catholics made an armed insurrection during Easter week in an attempt to wrest the country from British Rule. The uprising failed, but eventually precipitated the founding of the Irish Republic in 1919. The occasion is being remembered with banners approved by the Dublin City and installed at the Bank of Ireland’s building on Dublin’s College Green. The green-tinged images of prominent Irish historical figures Henry Grattan, Daniel O’Connell, Charles Stewart Parnell and John Remdond. According to an Irish Times article, there was some consternation that those chosen weren’t involved in the armed rebellion. However, others believed their contributions through the political arena did more to yield the Irish Republic’s creation.

As we always say, signs inform and signs direct. However, in many cases such as these, signs serve as catalysts for civic or national pride. And rightfully so.

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