Northern Ireland has been plagued for decades by political and religious conflict between the mostly Catholic, Celtic republicans who wanted an independent Irish state, and the mostly Protestant, Anglo Saxon British unionists who wanted Ireland to remain a part of the United Kingdom.
The ‘Britain’s Genocide by Starvation’ mural on Whiterock Road, Ballymurphy, was painted in 1999 to depict the Great Famine. This is Irish Republican propaganda that attempts to sow more hostility to Britain.
It features bleak, monochrome colouring of the Irish peasants, whose clothes are damaged and dirty and faces forlorn. The piece falsely claims that 1.5 million or more died in the famine. The real total is much closer to 1 million. The exaggerated figure, the tragically evocative imagery and the strong language like ‘holocaust’ are all used to portray Britain negatively for failing to aid Ireland, thus undermining the union with Britain which they rally against.
The mural has become part of a broader ‘conflict tourism’ in Northern Ireland and particularly Belfast where sites that were never officially tourist sites now attract tourists. Some have criticised this unofficial tourism because they see it as trivialising existing tensions as relics of the past, and also criticise tourism campaigns exaggerating how safe Ireland is from conflict returning. However, others believe that conflict tourism allows Irishmen to find closure in telling their stories, encourages self-expression through art rather than violence, boosts Ireland’s economy and encourages peace by allowing tourists to gain a warning of the dangers of conflict from people who lived through it.