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Northern Ireland's famed murals take a more peaceful tone

The story of Northern Ireland's troubled history has long been told in painted murals on the walls of its cities, towns and villages. But as Cathal McNaughton explains in a post on Reuters' Photographers Blog, the images commemorating ancient battles and honoring paramilitary groups are now being joined by paintings celebrating sporting successes and cultural achievements.

People walk past a Loyalist paramilitary mural in the Shankill Road area of West Belfast.Cathal McNaughton / Reuters

By Cathal McNaughton, Reuters

A 15-foot-high mural of a gunman dressed in army fatigues and a balaclava clutching an AK-47 is painted on the wall of a house in a residential street. People walk by and don't even notice it.

In other parts of the UK and Ireland there would probably be outrage, but not in Northern Ireland, where young children happily play on streets in front of a backdrop of politically-charged street art commemorating the violence and bloodshed of 'The Troubles'.

These murals have become street wallpaper for the people living in this small corner of Europe, who appear to barely bat an eyelid at a gory depiction of a skeleton crawling over dead bodies that adorns the end wall of a house on their street.

Most of the murals promote either Republican or Loyalist political beliefs. They often glorify paramilitary groups such as the IRA or the Ulster Volunteer Force with a roll call of the dead written large "lest we forget".

However since the paramilitary ceasefires of the 1990s, this distinctively Northern Irish artwork has seen a shift in tone. New murals have sprung up depicting local heroes like golfer Rory McIlroy, who represent the changing face of the province's political landscape.

Golfer Rory McIlroy, who hails from County Down, is pictured on a wall in the Holylands area of Belfast.Cathal McNaughton / Reuters
A mural in the village of Cushendall in north Antrim commemorates 100 years of the local Gaelic Athletic Club.Cathal McNaughton / Reuters
A mural features Irish boxer Michael Conlan winning a bronze medal in the flyweight division at the 2012 Summer Olympics on a wall in the Falls Road area of West Belfast.Cathal McNaughton / Reuters

It would be nice to think that one day there will be no need to paint any more murals to commemorate new victims of Northern Ireland's troubled history. But with the annual marching season fast approaching, and following the most sustained period of rioting for years, I think there may well be a few more turns in this journey yet — and fresh paint on the wall.

Read more at Reuters' Photographers Blog.

Editor's note: Images taken between Feb. 19 and Feb. 23, 2013 and made available to NBC News today.


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