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Northern Ireland – how a story about sectarian murals stirred up a storm

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Among the questions regularly asked of journalists are these: Where do you get your stories from? How do stories happen? How do you know a story is a story? And, inevitably, do you make stories up?

Given that there is no single, straightforward answer to any of them, especially that contentious last one, I came across an interesting case last week that helps to cast some light on the process – perhaps I should say, mystery – of story-getting.

A Belfast-based BBC reporter, Chris Lindsay, was casually reading a guidebook on a Singapore Airlines flight when he came across an item about the murals in the city where he works. These political wall paintings, reputed to number 300, have earned themselves a Wikipedia entry which describes them as symbols of Northern Ireland and points to the thematic differences between those in republican areas and in loyalist areas.

But Lindsay thought the airline guide writer went much further by overstating those differences in rather colourful language. He or she contended that loyalist murals “resemble war comics without the humour” while the republican ones “often aspire to the heights of Sistine Chapel-lite”.

The guide said: “Recently, Protestant murals have taken on a grimmer air and typical subjects include wall-eyed paramilitaries perpetually standing firm against increasing liberalism, nationalism and all the other -isms Protestants see eroding their stern, bible-driven way of life.”

By contrast, murals in nationalist areas featured “themes of freedom from oppression, and a rising nationalist confidence that romantically and surreally mix and match images from the Book of Kells, the Celtic mist mock-heroic posters of the Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick, assorted phoenixes rising from the ashes and revolutionaries clad in splendidly idiosyncratic sombreros and bandanas from ideological battlegrounds in Mexico and South America”.


© The Guardian