Extramural Activity is a blog of murals, street art, and graffiti from the north of Ireland/Northern Ireland, particularly Belfast. There are occasionally images of other street displays, particularly memorial plaques and stones.
The goal of each post is to explain the contents of each image and provide some context, since the item shown will typically come from a sectarian community, either CNR [Catholic-Nationalist-Republican] or PUL [Protestant–Unionist-Loyalist], and have a background that the viewer is not familiar with. We also attend to successive art on the wall over time.
The blog serves as a database of images which is collated along with the images from other such databases in the map.
These then provide the information that allows us and scholars world-wide to write on murals – their imagery, their history, their production, their materiality, and more. Why are there murals? Why paint in public? Who paints in public? Why aren’t murals signed and dated? How can Cú Chulainn be both a republican and a loyalist icon? Why haven’t murals gone away, now that there is peace? (In fact, there are more murals now than ever before.) And many questions about how murals have changed over time: Why does stenciling wax and wane in popularity? Why are a lot of pieces now done on boards and nailed to the wall? Where did the doves go in murals? When did Bobby Sands become an icon? Why are some paramilitaries bare-faced but others hooded? And so on. For our own answers to a few of these questions, see What Is A Mural? and the Glossary, and especially the Visual History pages.
The name “Extramural Activity” was what came to mind once it was clear that the obvious names/web addresses – such as “belfastmurals” and the like – were already taken. Many schools and council districts send out catalogues of ‘extramural activities’ or ‘extramural education’ to local residents, encouraging them to try such things as playing a recreational sport, learning a foreign language, or developing artistic skills. These classes take place at nights or on weekends, outside the normal working routine. And as a name for the blog, “extramural activity” conveys the idea that murals are to some extent an “outsider” activity: there’s the official line, the mainstream news, the point of view that comes from the top down, and there are the murals and graffiti on the streets, which have different sources and different perspectives. The name suggests that other things are being said, out there on the streets, that are important to the people who produced them and the communities they live in. The funding and production of murals by state agencies (from 2006 onwards) shows that earlier murals were successful in broadening the conversation which the state now wishes to control or at least participate in.
The name also avoids having to refer to a town — ‘Belfast’, say — which might suggest that there aren’t murals in other places and allows us to include images from elsewhere, even though we are based in Belfast and the tag-line refers to Belfast. And if you wanted a name that grouped all of those places together, what would that be? Murals of Northern Ireland? Murals of the North of Ireland? Of the Six Counties? Ulster Murals? Every such title sends the “right” message to some people and the “wrong” message to others.
This leads us to a point that might seem obviously true but is a controversial and fruitful line of thought: the site (and the map, and the Visual Histories) rests on the presupposition that all of the public visual art can be integrated into a single history and a single analysis, and so all different types of public painting – republican, loyalist, state-sponsored, personal street art – are presented together.
But this presupposition might not be well-founded, as though muraling has been invented and/or developed independently by different groups who happen to live in the same place. As the Visual History pages make clear, the respective stories of republican and loyalist murals are distinct in a variety of important ways (which many people fail to distinguish) but they can nonetheless be combined into a single narrative of public expressions on the constitutional question of Northern Ireland.
If we separated the political murals into distinct sites dedicated to republican murals and to loyalist murals, we would quintuple our (aggregate) viewership over night by satisfying the prejudices of each sect. If there were a third site dedicated to street art, it would increase by an even greater fold. People love street art, perhaps more so around here because it’s not sectarian. But it’s by this very feature that street art can perhaps be included in the story of the consitutional question, as a rejection of the constitutional discussion (and a vote in favour of the status quo, at least in the short term). In theory, street art gives people another vision of the role that public art can play, though in practice it’s not clear that street art’s interaction with (political) murals is strong enough to make it part of the central narrative – see Visual Histories 10 and 11.
For the time being, however, we continue to present all types of public visual art together.
Who (A Couple Of Blogards) & How
Images: The photographer and photo editor is Seosamh Mac Coille. The primary camera is a Canon EOS 400D, typically with an 18-55mm lens, though sometimes with a 55-250mm. Also used is a Canon EOS 5D Mark II with a 24-70mm Sigma lens. And from 2021 onwards, an iPhone X.
For editing, Photoshop and DxO Viewpoint are primarily used. Watermarking is a regrettable necessity of publishing photographs in the digital age; we apply watermarks manually – our goal is that the watermark should be invisible at a glance but obvious upon inspection.
Other contributing photographers:
- Andy McDonagh/Eclipso Pictures (ig | Fb) is a professional photographer based in London-/Derry.
- Peter Moloney. Peter is based in Derry and London, England but travels all over the north of Ireland to take photos of murals, memorials, police and military installations, and parades. He also collects ephemera such as posters and badges, some of which have been photographed by CAIN. Some of his recent photographs of London murals appear on the Extramural Activity blog and his photographs of murals from previous years are (gradually!) being made available at petermoloneycollection.wordpress.com.
- Sabine Troendle (web) is a photojournalist hailing from Zurich, Switzerland. She has published Texas Reliable News (based on photo-essays based on stays in and around Austin, Texas 2006-2012) and has recently completed a series of essays Belfast Reliable News (based on time in Belfast 2018-2022).
- Anonymous (watermark “firstname.lastname@example.org”) is based in Portadown.
- Paddy Duffy is based in Belfast. During the Troubles he worked as a British Telecom engineer, which allowed him to safely photograph murals in all areas of the city. His collection can be viewed at paddyduffycollection.wordpress.com .
Words: Cathal Woods writes the daily blog post and the Visual History pages. He also compiles the maps. He is also editor of the Peter Moloney Collection – Murals and curates the Paddy Duffy Collection.
There are tens of thousands of hours in the Extramural collection, the Visual Histories, and the map; expenses include cameras, computers, software, site registration, and cloud storage. Please consider donating.
E-mail is the best way to contact us. Please write to extramuralactivity at gmail.com .
It was delightful to meet up with you and Noel at the book launch on 21st November. There are a few books with mural references that might interest you.
Art and propaganda. By Toby Clark. Harry N. Abrams, Inc. publishers. 1997
Popular art. By A. J. Lewery, David & Charles publishers. 1988
Ray Walker. By various authors. Coracle Press publishers. Circa 1985
The murals of Brian Barnes. By Steve Lobb. Creekside Press publishers. 2013
Haben uns während des jede Hilfestellung geleistet.
great site excellant photos. keep up the good work and keep them coming. the amount now been painted over and replaced by new ones its a good way to let people no about ulsters pride and past. when you think of northern ireland you think of great murals
Really great website, thanks!