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Drawing Support: Murals in the North of Ireland
Loyalist Mural - Red Hand of Ulster

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Text and Photograph: Bill Rolston ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna


Red Hand of Ulster and various flags.

The Red Hand of Ulster is a traditional symbol of the O'Neill clan, the major clan in the northern part of Ireland up to the time of the Plantation, early 17th century. The Plantation was in fact a strategic move on the part of the Elizabethans to undermine the power of the O'Neills in the area. The symbol derives from a myth of two chieftans rowing in separate boats towards a shore. Their agreement is that the one who touches the shore first may claim the land as his kingdom. The losing chieftan cut off his hand and threw it ahead of the winning boat, thus claiming the land. Thus, traditionally the symbol is that of an open and upright right hand dripping blood. It is reworked by the Loyalist Prisoners' Association, shown wrapped in barbed wire, the ultimate insult to loyalists "whose only crime was loyalty". Sometimes it is shown as a fist, a symbol of power, in murals supporting the UFF, Ulster Freedom Fighters, the nom de guerre of the Ulster Defence Association. Here, the Red Hand has sprouted feet and dances derisively on the Irish tricolour, which also bears the initials of the IRA, Irish Republican Army. The mural is a response to the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in November 1985, when the governments in Dublin and London agreed to consult each other over matters pertaining to Northern Ireland.

Location and Date
Tullevin Drive, Newtownabbey, near Belfast, 1988

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