Jings an’ crivvens!

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?


  1. Darren C said,

    June 27, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    Lewis retained an ambivalent relationship with his birthplace. He wrote of himself, “I’m more Welsh than anything” and while at Oxford self-consciously experimented with an Irish nationalist outlook, “partly from an interest in Yeats and Celtic mythology, partly from a natural repulsion to noisy drum-beating [and] bullying Orangemen.” Lewis “began to have a very warm feeling for Ireland in general [though] not so much our Protestant north,” but he soon abandoned literary Irishness as “a sort of little by-way of the intellectual world, off the main track.” Heaven was described as ” Oxford lifted and placed in the middle of Co Down.”

    Furthermore, “The country is very beautiful and if only I could deport the Ulstermen and fill their land with a populace of my own choosing, I should ask for no better place to live in.”

    taken from – http://www.linenhall.com/displayNewsRecord.asp?ID=7

  2. Newton Emerson said,

    June 27, 2008 at 4:48 pm

    The Tourist Board has really missed a trick with this CS Lewis craze. Apparently most of the locations in his Narnia books can be traced to Co. Down. OK, only one – the ‘Stone Table’ is Legannany Dolmen. But as you say the guy is safely dead so we could make up the rest, put them all in a booklet and sell Narnia Trail driving/coach tours to credit-crunched middle class English families who can no longer afford to take the kids to Spain.
    It really is amazing that nobody has thought of this, seeing as there is a Bronte Heritage Trail in Co. Down although Patrick Brunty only lived there until his early 20s and the girls never set foot in the place, or even alluded to it in print.

  3. Phil said,

    June 27, 2008 at 5:47 pm

    Sounds like that’s ‘ambivalent’ as in ‘love the place, hate the people’.

    I can’t decide if this is a really stupid and insensitive question or not, so I’ll ask it anyway and hope for the best. Why don’t they just whitewash the walls and have done with it? What would really be the problem with not having the walls sending *any* messages?

  4. Stephen said,

    June 27, 2008 at 6:02 pm

    Given that the Top Icon of Ulster Protestantism is a cautious Dutch politician, who had a good working relationship with the Whore of Babylon, (who ordered the bells of St. Peter’s to be rung in celebration of the Battle of the Boyne) and who was quite possibly homosexual, I think they can live with a High Church don who was very big on Mere Christianity and not wild about the Ulster variant thereof.

    Actually, I think Phil’s suggestion has great merit. After all, one of the things that people did during the Reformation was to whitewash the walls of churches so as to obscure the pictures of saints and so forth. Couldn’t someone issue a fatwa (or whatever it is Ulster Presbyterians do in these circumstances) to the effect that murals of men in balaclavas are Graven Images and, therefore, a Bad Thing?

  5. Darren said,

    June 27, 2008 at 7:07 pm

    “wouldn’t it be an idea to have murals of more authentic representatives of Prod culture – say, the Broons and Oor Wullie?”

    If anything, I always presumed that the Broons were left-footers.

    How many kids did ma and pa have? I seem to remember eight.

  6. Renegade Eye said,

    June 27, 2008 at 9:17 pm

    Martin Luther King and Mother Theresa in the same sentence is a travesty itself. Hitchens isn’t always wrong.

  7. yourcousin said,

    June 27, 2008 at 9:38 pm

    I think you mean the DUP unveiled the mural as Peter Robinson was the main speaker. He did say a couple of things of interest though that peaked my eyebrows a bit. Such as,

    “I was a young fellow when the so-called Troubles started in Northern Ireland,” he continued.

    “I was out on the barricades with the people that I grew up with…so I understand how many people got introduced into paramilitary organisations.”

    With this kind of understanding attitude he and Martin should get along great.

  8. Danny said,

    June 27, 2008 at 11:11 pm

    I don’t know about the Broons being Catholics, but there used to be a Meadowbank Thistle fanzine that reguarly speculated about where the money for the 2nd home in the country came from.

    Pa Broon seemed to be a shipyard worker and that industry has long gone fom Dundee..

  9. ejh said,

    June 28, 2008 at 8:33 am

    AWOL, presumably, of blessed memory?

  10. WorldbyStorm said,

    June 28, 2008 at 8:51 am

    I always thought there was something terribly Catholic about the stuff Lewis wrote…

  11. ejh said,

    June 28, 2008 at 9:49 am

    Oh God yes, it couldn’t be less Protestant if you put a Cardinal’s hat on its head and translated it into Latin.

  12. splinteredsunrise said,

    June 28, 2008 at 2:06 pm

    You can’t really have Lewis without his pal Tolkien, and good old JRR was so Catholic he’d give Gerry McGeough a run for his money.

  13. D.J.P. O'Kane said,

    June 29, 2008 at 2:16 am

    >>>there was something terribly Catholic about the stuff Lewis wrote…

    That’s because the allegorical imagery in the Narnia books (never read his other stuff) is pagan as well as Christian.

  14. WorldbyStorm said,

    June 29, 2008 at 10:04 pm

    Actually there’s a story Arthur C. Clarke used to tell about meeting Tolkien and Lewis in a pub back in the mid-1950s to discuss the ‘morality’ of space flight. Some of the details are here: http://www.geocities.com/jcsherwood/ACCquiz.htm

    Now that would be an interesting meeting (although Clarke was teetotal IIRC).

  15. WorldbyStorm said,

    June 29, 2008 at 10:05 pm

    DJP, re Narnia, everytime I think of Aslan Christy Dignam comes to mind. Used to see him… ‘wandering’ around Fairview. It sort of puts a different spin on it all.

  16. ejh said,

    June 30, 2008 at 7:50 am

    The first meeting between Clarke and Tolkien occurred at the Eastgate pub at Oxford

    Funny, I never really thought of the Eastgate as a pub, and in my sixteen years living in Oxford I visited every pub in the city. Strictly speaking it’s a hotel. I suppose its function may have been different in 1954.

    Tolkein and Lewis’ normal hangout was the Eagle and Child on St Giles, a pub I used to like very much – though slightly over-heavy with tourists, and probably all the more so now, what with the Narnia and hobbit movies.

  17. rote kapelle said,

    June 30, 2008 at 1:28 pm

    My memory of it is not so good as I read it many years ago, but in Humphrey Carpenter’s book The Inklings it is mentioned that Tolkien’s relations with Lewis were damaged by religious differences, since Tolkien was a devout Catholic and Lewis was, at least according to Tolkien, affected by his own upbringing. Tolkien wrote that Lewis still had a bit of “Ulster” in him, though he was probably not aware of it.

  18. Nathaniel said,

    July 9, 2008 at 5:13 am

    I think Tolkien’s comments about Lewis still having a bit of Ulster in him, although probably correct, had quite a bit to do with being unable to get him to cross the Tiber.

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