The Bogside Artists

When we told some Irish friends that we were making a trip to Northern Ireland, and further revealed our interest of getting a better understanding of the thirty years worth of political conflict that plagued the region up until the late 1990s, they scoffed.  “I hope that’s not all you’re doing.  There is so much more to the area then that.”

Indeed, there is.  Our quick visit to Derry was a very pleasant one – we enjoyed strolling through the walled city and spontaneously found ourselves in engaging conversations with locals – the friendliness we immediately felt was impressive and thoroughly enjoyed.

But we still found ourselves drawn to Rossville Street, home to the Battle of the Bogside and Bloody Sunday, two significant events in the thirty year stretch that is referred to as “The Troubles” of Northern Ireland.  What once served as a scene of protest, riots, and violence between Catholic nationalists (in favor of re-joining the Republic of Ireland since being split up in 1921) and Protestant unionists (loyal to the United Kingdom), this famed street now displays a permanent memorial of the events in the form of tremendous murals.

Three painters: Tom Kelly, William Kelly and Kevin Hasson are The Bogside Artists, and these are just a few of their amazing pieces that line Rossville Street.

The Civil Rights Mural.  From The Bogside Artists website: “It cannot be doubted that Martin Luther King was the most influential figure in the Northern Irish struggle for human rights…”. The Catholic nationalists (living on the “Bogside” of Derry) were continually repressed by the Protestant government that ruled them, even though they were the majority. The voting systems were unequal, and their allotted housing was very poor and overpopulated.  This led to the protests and subsequent riots when they were attacked.

Petrol Bomber (representing the Battle of the Bogside).


The Petrol Bomber is just beyond the famous Free Derry sign, painted by a Catholic activist in 1969, on the corner of the Bogside. 


Operation Motorman and The Runner


Bernadette – a socialist republican activist who was elected as a Member of Parliament at the age of 21 in 1969.


The Saturday Matinee – a scene common in the early 70s, often on Saturday afternoons.


Bloody Sunday – On January 30th, 1972, 13 males were killed (7 were teenagers) by soldiers of the British Army during a civil rights march.  Those killed were completely unarmed (some even shot in the back), and it wasn’t until June, 2010 that an investigation led by a Canadian and an Australian found that the killings were “unjustified and unjustifiable.”


The Peace Mural – although “The Troubles” are debated to have ended in 1998, violence still sporadically erupts along old tension lines.


We had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with the artist Tom Kelly at “The People’s Gallery” – a shop profiling The Bogside Artists work, set up at a corner on Rossville Street where some of the early rioting started.  Recently back from displaying work overseas, we were lucky to catch him, and he filled us in on some of the problems the collective artists face in keeping their project alive.

He repeatedly emphasized that the murals are for the people, by the people – that their work would not have even been possible without the generosity of the residents in the Bogside, providing paint and other tools necessary to make it happen. Still, they struggle, with no support from the government to keep the murals fresh and the shop open. He cited the $22M “Peace Bridge”, opened just this June to represent a united Derry, and how even a few of those valuable dollars sent their way could keep this project of the people alive.

This is a story that needs to be told and remembered.  Although after a few days in the north talking to different people, one thing is clear: it’s very complicated. There were scads of human rights violations by the loyalists, atrocities committed against the innocent on both sides, and lines drawn so deeply that it is now hard to imagine them ever being dissolved.

More to come in our following post with details of our taxi tour in Belfast.


37 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • August 16 2011

    Ireland’s history has always been foggy to me-I know parts of it, but I have never taken the time to delve deeper into it. I probably should, my ancestors were Irish! Thanks for sharing such an informative post.
    Claire recently posted..My 7 Links: I’m One of the Cool Kids Now

    • August 16 2011

      There is a lot of history to discover – I feel like we are just scraping the surface. But the recent history in Northern Ireland is most fascinating to me.

  • Another great post & especially your photos. When you get an understanding of the deep seated feelings there it makes any rifts we have in our country seem pretty petty I bet.


    • August 16 2011

      There are many times throughout our travels where I have looked back at my own country in comparison and it makes me SO happy that I grew up where I did.

  • August 16 2011

    I’ve been to Belfast and saw some of their murals. When I lived in Dublin I talked to many Irish people and they still consider Northern Ireland a part of their country, I haven’t talked to to Belfast citizens, so I couldn’t say what’s their feeling, but it was a terrible situation indeed, so many attacks and so much violence.

    • August 16 2011

      And the sad thing is that it still continues. (Come back tomorrow to see our post on the Belfast taxi tour!)

  • August 16 2011

    I remember how vivid the murals I saw were back in 1995. I had people poke their heads out of windows back then telling me not to take photos, and there were still Protestant and Catholic cabs. Would love to get back their one day.

    Amazing pics as always…
    Raymond @ Man On The Lam recently posted..The Hills Are Alive — Hill Trekking in Northern Thailand

    • August 16 2011

      Thanks Raymond. We took a tour of Belfast as well (post on that out tomorrow). It’s not quite as bad as when you were there by the sounds of it, but there were some times when our guide had to be careful of what he said because of who was around him.

  • August 16 2011

    how incredible, especially the dove one.
    wandering educators recently posted..Book Review: One with the Sea

    • August 16 2011

      They all really are. And there are quite a few more that we didn’t post pictures of.

  • August 16 2011

    I’ve for a long time wanted to take a black cab tour of Belfast. Ever since I saw it on Bourdain’s show. I think history needs to be known. Lest we repeat the mistakes of the past. Yet it’s not an experience I would take lightly. Thank you for writing this. The murals are indeed quite powerful.

    • August 16 2011

      History does need to be known and it’s really a shame that the artists aren’t getting the support they need and deserve. Come back tomorrow…we have a post on our taxi tour coming up…

  • Emily in Chile
    August 16 2011

    I got chills reading this. I don’t know much about the complexities, but with an English father I grew up aware of the general problems and the worst violence associated with the conflict. Thanks for sharing the art with those of us who haven’t seen it in person.

    • Pete
      August 17 2011

      Your welcome Emily. We didn’t know too much either about the troubles, but it was a great history lesson to experience. Being there and seeing the murals gives you an even bigger chill in person.

  • August 17 2011

    Are you going to Belfast? Driving through the Catholic and Protestant areas there and seeing the murals sent chills down my spine.
    There is one mural where the eyes and gun of the masked gunmen follow you. So eerie.
    Caz Makepeace recently posted..Official Qantas Correspondent for the ‘Great Crusade’ Ultimate Supporters Tour of New Zealand

    • Pete
      August 17 2011

      yes, very eerie indeed. Stay tuned for Belfast.

  • Abby
    August 17 2011

    Wow. You can read so much history, and nothing compares to seeing these vivid pictures. I can’t imagine having been in person.

    • Pete
      August 17 2011

      You are right Abby. The pictures don’t even do enough justice. Standing in front of them you find yourself staring and transported back to the time when it was really happening exactly where you are standing.

  • August 17 2011

    Absolutely lovely! Lots of emotion in this art. May have to visit on my next trip to Ireland.
    Viajera recently posted..Leaving Amsterdam

  • August 17 2011

    Excellent post, guys! We did not make it to Northern Island unfortunately but I was really curious about the issues. The artwork is so powerful
    Andrea recently posted..Four Things We Loved About Ireland

  • August 18 2011

    Evocative post, guys. I did a black cab tour in Belfast 10 years ago, very interesting and very disturbing.
    Sophie recently posted..Pizza night in the Italian countryside

  • August 18 2011

    Wow, these images are very powerful! It certainly seems like an interesting trip to take.
    Eurotrip Tips recently posted..Monday’s Postcard: London Zoo

    • August 19 2011

      All of Northern Ireland is definitely worth the trip!

  • August 21 2011

    LOVE the art. When we were in London a few years ago we got to see the news story where a pizza guy was sniped at an army base due to modern day tensions. It was crazy!
    Erica recently posted..Photo Friday: HDR – Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

    • August 22 2011

      It is crazy, and sad. Because with the younger people that are involved today – I’m not even sure they know what they are fighting for.

  • Andrew - The Unframed World
    August 22 2011

    So cool! Montreal also has a lot of similar large scale public art like this.

    • Pete
      August 22 2011

      Love Montreal. One of my fave CAD cities

  • flipnomad
    August 26 2011

    great murals… im not that familiar with ireland’s history but these murals really say a lot about their struggle…

    • August 26 2011

      We learned a lot during our time there. A very sad history in the north…but hopefully one that is turning around.

  • September 8 2011

    Wow, what an amazing photo story. Thanks for sharing a history that we know very little about. And for referring us to the Bogside Artists Website. Wonderful work.

    • September 8 2011

      Thanks guys. Their art work is tremendous, and SO important.

  • September 21 2011

    Your very well-taken photos reveal quite a poignancy of sense of place. I wonder what Graham Greene ever said about this place.
    Meanwhile this is the very essence of what I expect to find on my far-future plans to explore a Diego Rivera route through Mexico. Cheers!
    Nichole L. Reber recently posted..A Traveler Returns to What He Misses from Home

    • Pete
      September 22 2011

      Hi Nichole, thank you for your kind words 🙂 and best of luck in planning your Diego Rivera route, sounds wonderful!

  • September 27 2011

    I really like these artists and their depictions! Very interesting post and great photos!
    dtravelsround recently posted..Hello, Chiang Mai

    • September 27 2011

      Thanks Diana! These artists really do some amazing work.

  • November 20 2011

    I loved Derry. Thanks for sharing your images from there!
    Bobbi Lee Hitchon recently posted..Wellington Harbor by night

    • November 21 2011

      Derry was one of your favorites stops in Northern Ireland. Glad you enjoyed!

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