Irish Legends and Belfast Murals


Amongst the various murals we were shown in Belfast were these two, standing near each other in Shankill. One shows the Irish hero, Cúchulainn. Apparently he regularly features on murals from both sides of the divide.

‘The image of Cú Chulainn is invoked by both Irish nationalists and Ulster unionists. Irish nationalists see him as the most important Celtic Irish hero, and thus he is important to their whole culture. By contrast, unionists see him as an Ulsterman defending the province from enemies to the south.

Like all Irish folk I know the legend of Cúchulainn from my schooldays; the story of the how the Red Hand became the symbol of Ulster (on the other hand) was new to me. Our taxi driver/guide told us that there are many versions but they all involve a race between two boats.

The boats are racing for the leadership of the province of Ulster -whoever  touches land first will win.  As one boat draws in front the captain of the second ship draws his sword, chops off his own hand and throws it to shore, thus becoming (with his blood -red hand) the first to touch land.


The end of every row of houses in this Unionist estate are painted. You can see how imposing the murals are – look how tiny Michael is beside that hand. The hand turns up on everything, including Belfast beer!