On Rossville Street in the Bogside area of Derry stands a unique set of twelve large-scale murals that have attracted global attention for their themes of violence, peace and unity. The gigantic artworks are a portrayal of the brutality that the Bogside area has witnessed — called the Troubles — and the three artists who produced the wall-paintings are brothers Tom and William Kelly (who sadly passed away in January 2017), and their friend Kevin Hassan.
The first mural, called Petrol Bomber, was painted on a three story maisonette building in 1994. The massive black and white image shows a young boy in a gas mask, trying to protect himself against CS gas as he holds a petrol bomb in a scene from the Battle of the Bogside, which took place in August 1969.
This next image is called Bernadette, and was painted in 1996. It shows the civil rights leader, Bernadette McAliskey (or Bernadette Devlin as she was known at the time), giving a speech on a megaphone to the people on the streets. The top left corner of the painting reads ‘YOU ARE NOW ENTERING FREE DERRY’, taken from the words that feature on the
gable wall of Free Derry Corner. The picture shows a child holding a bin lid; the noise of bin lids was used to alert people to raids by the British Army.
Bloody Sunday, featured below, was painted in 1997. The picture shows an incident that had taken place on Bloody Sunday with a group of men carrying the body of Jack (Jackie) Duddy. On the right-hand side, leading the way, is the local Catholic priest, Bishop Daley. Under their feet is a bloodstained civil rights banner, which was used to cover the body of one of those that had been killed.
This next mural was painted in 1999, to coincide with the 27th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday shooting. It shows the faces of the fourteen men who were killed, imposed on a red backdrop with fourteen oak leaves. The iconographic representation of the oak leaves is displayed because Derry takes its name from the Irish word Doire, meaning “oakgrove”.
Death of Innocence was unveiled in 1999. The picture shows schoolgirl Annette McGavigan, who was just fourteen years old when she was killed in the crossfire between the IRA and the British troops on Abbey Street. The butterfly can be viewed as a representation of Annette’s natural innocence, and the broken red rifle symbolises the anger against the civil conflict.
This next mural is called Hunger Strike, and was made public in 2000. The picture shows Raymond McCartney standing in front of a large red “H”. The “H” signifies when Raymond McCartney went on a 53 day hunger strike in the H-blocks of the Maze prison in 1980.
The seventh image, Operation Motorman, was finished in July 2001. Operation Motorman was set up by the British forces in order to tackle the ‘no-go’ areas of Derry. The painting of a British paratrooper using a sledge hammer to break in a door is common of the events that had happened during Operation Motorman on July 31st, 1972.
This eighth painting, named The Saturday Matinee, is from 2001. It depicts a typical occurrence in the early 70s within the Bogside area: a rioter, an armoured truck and the streets littered with bricks.
The mural below was revealed to the public in the summer of 2004, and shows the people of Derry out in force protesting for their basic civil rights, such as votes, jobs and housing. These protests would later erupt and become the Troubles.
The tenth painting is called Peace Mural, and is possibly the most avant-garde of all the artworks. The mural was completed on the 30th July 2004, and unveiled by the (then) Mayor of Derry. The colourful backdrop juxtaposed with the dove represents the struggle for peace with a bright future ahead, as Derry was named UK’s City of Culture in 2013.
The Runner, unveiled in 2006, is dedicated to the memory of Patrick Walsh (who crawled through the onslaught of bullets from the Bloody Sunday massacre to attend to the body of Patrick Doherty). The boys in the painting are Manus Deery (who was just fifteen when he was shot dead by fragments of a British sniper’s ricocheted bullet) and Charles Love (killed by flying debris from a bomb the IRA struck, at the age of sixteen). The mural also has a memorial plague to Charles Love.
The last image is called A Tribute to John Hume, and it is a set of four famous faces situated on a white background. These faces are civil rights activist and politician John Hume (top left), Martin Luther King (top right), Mother Theresa (bottom left) and Nelson Mandela (bottom right). The Brooklyn Bridge stands in the centre. This piece was unveiled by John Hume to a mass of media attention in June 2008. All four people in the mural have received the Nobel Peace Prize.
These murals are portrayed like a timeline, starting with the horrors of the past and ending with peace in the present. It can be argued that the works of art are an act of republican rebellion but, if the viewer looks deep within, they are simply political art with a quality of catharsis, standing as historical documentation of Northern Ireland’s struggle for civil rights and social justice. Since they represent those on both sides of the conflict, the murals have become known as the People’s Gallery.