Katherine J. Robinson
University of ColoradoBoulder

“Simply the Best?”: Constructing Identity, Promoting Fear, and Generating Rhetoric in the Enclaves of Northern Ireland

During the summer of 2000 a mural appeared in Belfast’s Shankill neighborhood. Although murals are a regular occurrence in Northern Ireland, this particular mural resulted in heated discussion. The debate later resulted in a negotiated removal of the mural by a local representative. Against a brilliant red background a group of masked gunmen raise their guns to salute the UFF (Ulster Freedom Fighters) crest. Other elements of this mural include the seemingly benign lines: “Simply the Best” and “Wouldn’t it be great if it could be like this all the time!” Where the line “Simply the Best” celebrates loyalist paramilitary group identity markers, the declared question “Wouldn’t it be great if it could be like this all the time!,” underscored by the gold banners of a “killed” list, reinforces loyalist paramilitary refusals to acquiesce even as the Northern Irish community navigates a rocky road to peace. Yes, the mural frames loyalist declarations of defiance against any form of rapprochement. But similar murals exist on both sides of the sectarian border and go un-remarked. What made this one different? What about it inspired people to write letters to the editor? What was it that motivated the representative to negotiate with the UFF for its removal? While this presentation begins with an examination of the defiant rhetoric found within the Shankill mural, its primary focus is on the social discourse resulting from and surrounding this mural and attempts to redefine community identity in defiance of border conflicts, domestic terrorism, and “acceptable levels of violence.”