There’s a mural in Derry bearing the likenesses of Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa, which I must say is a little hard on poor old MLK. But the big news is that, Mount Rushmore style, another saintly figure has had his face added to the mural. Yes, it’s St John Hume. Many of John’s comrades in the SDLP might raise an eyebrow at the thought of John as a living saint, but trying to battle the irresistible force of Derry civic boosterism might have taxed King Canute.
What’s more interesting in the world of murals is what the Prods have been up to. There are a few optimistic souls who reckon that loyalist areas of Belfast could be made attractive for tourists. One of the things that’s stood in their way has been the fact that much of loyalist Belfast is adorned with murals of balaclava-wearing gunmen. All right, some of the renderings are so inept that the gunmen look more like the Black and White Minstrels, but you get the drift. Anyway, there’s been a bit of a drive underway, backed by the grantocracy, to replace paramilitary-themed murals with murals depicting Protestant culture.
I don’t know, Protestant culture. I hope this doesn’t come across as a sectarian point, but Belfast Presbyterianism has never been very keen on culture. Imposing public buildings, yes. Anything that looks a bit arty-farty, no. And the best efforts of the Ulster Scots fraternity haven’t changed things much. Maybe it has something to do with Prods hanging stubbornly on to their barbaric practice of giving their children the Broons Annual for Christmas.
Another problem is that a lot of your culturally significant Belfast Prods either a) weren’t very unionist or b) got the hell out of Belfast at an early age and never came back. Often both. So, for instance, Van the Man has been very resistant to moves to turn him into an icon of Protestant culture. No, it’s best to wait until your icons are safely dead. That might explain the rash of George Best murals, when the guy never came here when he was alive, and was given to opining on the need for an all-Ireland football team, a particular bugbear of the loyalist proletariat. But now that Bestie has shuffled off this mortal coil, all is forgiven.
What prompted these thought was the PUP’s unveiling of a mural of CS Lewis, another unlikely hero. All right, so Lewis was an East Belfast Prod, a significant populariser of Christian thought and the author of the world-famous Narnia novels. But the overwhelming impression I always had of Lewis – except that he would have made a good villain in Inspector Morse – was that he wasn’t very attached to his roots. His youthful atheism may, in fact, have had something to do with intense exposure to dour Belfast Protestantism. Surprised by joy, forsooth.
(Although, I must say, I rather enjoyed The Screwtape Letters. Theology goes so much better with a little humour.)
This all strikes me as a little desperate. Assuming that copyright issues can be resolved, wouldn’t it be an idea to have murals of more authentic representatives of Prod culture – say, the Broons and Oor Wullie?