Belfast is a city known for its rich mural heritage. Initially focused on more political messaging, in recent years a more contemporary style of street art has taken hold. The ‘Hit the North’ street art festival having played a substantial role in turning Belfast into one of the Worlds most vibrant street art cities.
There are many murals to visit across Belfast. Many created as part of various festivals by visiting artists from across the World. The city has a fine tradition of muralists and the island of Ireland can boast some of the very best street artists around.
So let’s take a look at some of the absolute must see contemporary murals. In particular the area of the Cathedral Quarter is perhaps the most populous. This is the very centre of Belfast and it is mostly here where a lot of the more modern street art can be found. There are many other more political works but those tend to be located in areas such as the Falls and Shankhill Roads.
So for this post it’s modern murals only. The political we’ll leave for a different time. Just imagine that you’ve only got a few days in Belfast to look at street art. Where do you go and what do you see? This post will give you the inside information on some of the must see murals to visit in the city.
Must See Murals to Visit in Belfast
ADW – ‘Deep Love’ – Dunbar Link (2016)
A love story for the ages. First painted onto the rusting wreck of a ship in Waterford, the image in Belfast was a re-interpretation of that. Painted for Hit the North in 2016 it has since become an enduring image. Close to the docks the artist ADW likes to think that it’s found a real home in the city especially considering its strong maritime history. The piece also found a little fame when it appeared in the oscar winning move ‘Belfast’ with Kenneth Branagh. Watch out for it the next time you watch that.
Alice Pasquini – ‘The Acrobat’ – Donegall Street (2018)
An artist who knows Belfast well, Alice Pasquini has visited a number of times before. Her piece on Donegall Street is a tribute to Will Chamberlain the director of the Belfast Circus School. He had recently passed away to cancer and the portrait of the acrobat in a state of repose on a swing is a recognition of his impact in the community. A supporter of the street art scene, Will had also established the ‘Festival of Fools’ which since 2019 would run at the same time as the Hit the North festival.
Asbestos – ‘Let Me Unsee’ – North Street (2022)
Painted as part of the 2022 Hit the North Festival, this mural from Asbestos shows a man consumed by eyeballs. His own eyes are still visible but he peers nervously through the others which act as a kind of helmet. It’s a piece which references just how easy it is to get overwhelmed with today’s modern world. There is so much going on, so many eyes and so much to see especially with technology.
Speaking to Street Art Cities, the artist referenced his own feelings of being overwhelmed by the world around him. “It feels like the world is bashing more and more through my eyes, filling me with more and more and more”. It’s this all consuming nature which is visualised in the mural. Is is a case of needing more eyes in which to take everything in or is it a case of needing to hide away. “I feel I need to unsee. To switch off a few of my eyes and to try and process fewer things. I’m overstimulated, which I love, but sometimes I just need a break: Let Me Unsee!”
Christina Angelina – ‘True to our Words’ – The Irish News, Donegall Street (2015)
On the side of the Irish News offices, three faces can be seen with various expressions. Painted in the typical blue hue of the artist, the Los Angeles based Christina Angelina. The piece is a commentary on the importance of language. Words escape from a Pandora’s Box held by the woman at the bottom of the mural. The effect of those words are what inform the expressions of the women above.
Conor Harrington – ‘The Duel of Belfast Dance by Candlelight’ – Hill Street (2012)
Irish artist Conor Harrington is known for his large scale paintings often depicting people in period costume. The images will be first staged in his studio prior to painting on the wall. All will have a multiple interpretation. Though also be representative in some way of first an initial idea but then acknowledging that people will often find their own meaning in the work. Painting in 2012 it was notable in that the mural also represented the artists first visit to Belfast itself.
The mural shows two people fighting and another watching it unfold but doing nothing. In general terms it’s a representation of the colonial west which Conor describes as being filtered through a historical lens. Just what is being represented, the artist leaves intentionally open.
Emic – ‘Sunflower for Peace’ – Harrow Street (2022)
A little further out than some of the other but still a must see. A grey sunflower sits against the backdrop of a jet black wall on the gable end of a house on Harrow Street. Part of a campaign to support regeneration of the area it remembers Ukraine and was unveiled as part of the 2022 St Patricks Day celebrations. The sunflower is a symbol of Ukraine and it’s ghostly appearance in part reflects the destruction being wrought upon the country.
The piece is found in the Holylands area near the university towards the southern end of the city. Next to the sunflower the artist has written the phrase ‘people live in each others shadow’. Perhaps a reference to the fact that no matter where we are, we are all connected.
Irony – ‘Spirit of Commerce’ – Pottinger’s Link
A mural meant to inspire and signal a new way forward. It was created for the Daisy Chain Entries project and commissioned by Belfast City Council. Centered within the piece, a ships figurehead, head up to the sky is painted in a muted blue. It evokes a sense of elation, leading the way and perhaps reflecting a city which itself is moving forward. In the background ornate tile work, still there but faded with history. A reminder perhaps of past moments of prosperity.
According to Daisy Chain Inc it’s a piece which evokes “feelings of community prosperity”. The idea of a city on the rise and where a bright future awaits those who “roll up their sleeves and let the energy carry them like the wind carries the trading ships”. Ship building of course has been a major centre of trade in Belfast for years. It’s a fact acknowledged at the murals base with ships lamps and ropes tying everything together.
MTO – ‘Son of Protogoras’ – Talbot Street (2014)
A crouching boy with bright red hair holds a dead dove which has been shot be two arrows. Upon each arrow are symbols. The latin cross to signify the catholic and the cross of the knights of malta to symbolise the protestant churches. Adam Turkington from Seedhead Arts explained that MTO had been surprised to discover that the city was still riven in two camps when he visited in 2014. It’s a piece therefore which represents the conflict.
The mural itself was inspired by the Greek philosoper Protogoras. Often described as the father of agnosticism he had said, “about the gods, I am unable to know whether they exist or do not exist. Nor what they are like in form. For there are many things that hinder sure knowledge – the obscurity of the subject and the shortness of human life”. Called the ‘Son of Protogoras‘ it is he who is holding the bird and perhaps looking on in judgement of the structures that were complicit in its demise
Nomad Clan – ‘Still Waters’ – Hill Street (2017)
The Nomad Clan are a pair of artists from the North of England. Known for their historically inspired murals, they take stories from any given area and re-imagine those on the wall. For their mural in Belfast, a woman is pictured staring at a wolf. The mural is a multi layered one. Referencing both the history of the city as well as the tensions in the area during the troubles
In particular ‘Still Waters‘ is a nod to Belfast’s ship building heritage as well as it’s linen and rope making industries. The wolf in the painting remembers a time when the Irish countryside had many wolves though now they are gone. The stance with the wolf and the young woman therefore becomes a kind of past meets present. Possibly both still a little uncertain of each other though knowing that they need to move together into the future.
Sancho Medina – Forzan – Gresham Street (2018)
Colombian artist Sancho Medina visited Belfast as part of an art exchange. He painted in the city for Hit the North in 2018 whilst local street artists Emic and Friz visited South America. His piece overlooking a car park on Gresham Street brings a bit of that Colombian flavour. It features a woman looking out over the city. Called ‘Forzan’ it means Force in Spanish. The indication being that here is a strong defender of the people and the space around her. Surrounding the woman are flora and fauna from Sancho’s home country. Not only defending but sharing the gifts of her home with the people of Belfast.
SMUG – Lobster Pot – High Street Court (2016)
An Australian artist , SMUG is known for his hyper realistic and often abstract portraiture. One of the World’s most sought after street artists. His work will often focus on individuals and characters that he has met or whose story or image has inspired him in some way. For his mural in Belfast he created a chef looking dispassionately towards the viewer with a lobster in the foreground.
Studio Giftig – St James Street South (2023)
Netherlands based Studio Giftig are known for their hyper realistic giant murals. Recently winning the 2022 prize for Mural of the Year from Street Art Cities. Based on James Street South in the linen quarter of the city, it is inspired by the old linen industry. Featuring a red haired woman, itself a nod to the people of Ireland, it is painted on the wall of what used to be a linen factory. She is surrounding by deconstructed elements of the flax plan which is key in the making of linen.
Belfast was visited between 27-30 April 2023 which was also the period of the Hit the North street art festival. The visit was supported by Tourism Ireland. The festival is in its 10th year and organised by Seedhead Arts with short from Hennessy.