By Lucienne Loo, Jay Shadday, Bill Smith
Our sculpture, Hand of Partition, shows the Red Hand of Ulster being held up by three green people, representing Irish Catholics in Northern Ireland. The sculpture is meant to symbolize the oppression and discrimination of Catholics in Northern Ireland by the Protestant majority. In our artwork, we aimed to represent the Catholic experience during the Troubles, taking inspiration from the murals of Belfast, the 1972 Civil Rights march known as Bloody Sunday, and the widespread discrimination of Catholics. The message of our sculpture is one of suffering and struggle.
The base of our sculpture consists of three Catholics struggling to support the weight of the Red Hand of Ulster, a well-known image adopted by Northern Irish Protestants. The Red Hand has been used prolifically in mainly unionist murals throughout the streets of Belfast to “assert” their “ancestral Ulster heritage” (Art of Conflict). Through this depiction, Hand of Partition symbolizes the systematic exclusion of Catholics from spheres of influence such as in business and politics. As David McKittrick and David McVea state in Making Sense of the Troubles, “the Unionist establishment, which was to run the state on the basis of Protestant majority rule for the next half-century, actively discriminated against Catholics in the allocation of jobs and housing, over political rights and in other areas” (5). The three green Catholic people contrast with the color of the Red Hand to represent the separation between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, and their position below the Red Hand emphasizes the subordinate role they were restricted to in the government and their communities.
Hand of Partition’s message was also inspired by Brian Friel’s Freedom of the City, a play in which three Catholics find themselves inside Derry’s Guildhall after the local police use tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a crowd gathered to discuss civil rights. In the Guildhall, the audience learns about their plight as Catholic citizens in Northern Ireland. Michael, one of the characters, gives his reasons for marching; he wants, “a decent job, a decent place to live, a decent town to bring up… children in.” He continues, arguing, “we want fair play too, so that no matter what our religion is, no matter what our politics is, we have the same chances and the same opportunities as the next fella…” (Friel 160).
Michael’s plight is represented by the two signs held by the Red Hand. These signs symbolize “Civil Rights” and “Jobs,” showing that Michael’s (and other Catholics’) rights were being held out of reach by the Protestant government. In an interview, school teacher and Brian Friel’s father, Paddy Friel, is asked if his students have a fair opportunity at employment. His answer reveals the oppression Catholics faced; “the very fact that they are Catholics is sufficient to debar them from employment in the corporations,” and “those in any employment worthwhile in the corporation are certainly not Catholics” (Radharc in Derry). Paddy Friel’s statements and Michael’s desire for basic rights exemplify these key concerns of Catholics during the Troubles.
The “Civil Rights” and “Jobs” signs also reflect imagery from a mural in Derry, Northern Ireland called “The Civil Rights Mural, The Beginning” (Bogside Artists). In the mural, protesters are marching for jobs, civil rights, and a one-man one-vote policy. On the other hand, Brian Faulkner, a unionist politician, believed civil rights, and the organizations in Northern Ireland promoting Catholic civil rights, were an IRA front, claiming the cause was “merely the latest in a series of convenient guises behind which republicanism is to be found” (Hancock 452). These sentiments made peaceful protests much more susceptible to violence from Protestant paramilitaries or British troops. Director Paul Greengrass’s film Bloody Sunday reenacts such a protest as Catholics in Northern Ireland marched for civil rights but were violently killed by British paratroopers (Bloody Sunday). Our use of these signs alludes to these forms of discrimination and violence that Catholics faced in Northern Ireland and their arduous efforts to achieve civil rights.
Art of Conflict. Dir. Valeri Vaughn. Perf. Vince Vaughn. Peter Billingsley, 2012, Film.
Bloody Sunday. Dir. Paul. Greengrass. 2002. Pippa Cross, Film.
Friel, Brian. The Freedom of the City. London: Samuel Press Inc, 1973. Print.
Hancock, Landon E. “Narratives of Identity in the Northern Irish Troubles.” Peace & Change, vol. 39, no. 4, Oct. 2014, pp. 443-467. EBSCOhost, Web.
McKittrick, David and David McVea. Making sense of the Troubles. London: Penguin, 2012. Print.
Radharc in Derry. Dir. Joseph Dunn, Daibhi Doran, William Fitzgerald, Desmond Forristal. RTÉ ONE. 1964. Film.