Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Guernica Mural Unveiled

12 August, 2007

Sinn Féin west Belfast MP Gerry Adams today spoke at the official unveiling of the Guernica Mural on the International Wall in Belfast. Mr. Adams unveiled the mural along with Jeanette Ervine, widow of PUP leader David Ervine.

Mr. Adams said:

"I want to congratulate Danny Devenney, Mark Ervine, Micky Doherty, Paul Smith, Bill Rolston, Gerard O Neill, and Ciaran Gallagher and their international team of volunteers Norie Fukui, Lea Wing, Katie Keenan, and Esther Taboada for producing another excellent mural. And Frankie Higgins of who sponsored the mural.

The use of wall paintings and drawings is as old as humanity. Neolithic murals were once all the rage in cave and stone dwellings.

They were an artistic means of getting across a message when communications were limited. And so it is today.

And much of this art has over the millennia been at its core political.

And so it is today also.

Belfast republican wall murals had a particular significance when there was censorship.

For example, 25 years ago murals and wall slogans came into their own during the hunger strike campaign. They took on added significance after Thatcher introduced state censorship.

As the situation has changed and evolved so too have the murals, especially in nationalist areas. They are rarely static.

Where once murals were an expression of resistance today they reflect the wider interests and confidence of nationalists; our culture and language, our sports and history, our interest in international matters, as well as our hopes for the future.

Murals are now more positive in tone and outlook than at any time in the last 30 years.

The international wall has become a focus for making political statements.

It also is in an iconic part of west Belfast. For centuries battles have been fought in this area.

In our own lifetime much of this neighbourhood was reduced to ashes.

Below us on the walls of the old St. Comgalls stood can be seen the pockmarks of 50-50 Browning machine gun bullets.

Opposite that and a few years earlier when I was going to school there was a shop, which was an election office for Sinn Féin, then a banned political party.

Ian Paisley threatened to come into the area to remove the Irish flag. That was in 1964. The rest is history.

Now we are living in better times

So it is fitting that Divis Street is the site of murals in support of the Palestinians, and against the war in Iraq and slavery and in remembrance of republican iconic figures like Maire Drumm or Kieran Nugent.

The Guernica mural and its anti-fascist message is a remarkable example of that.

Several years ago I visited Gernika. I also visited Madrid and saw Picasso's Guernica on exhibition.

Gernika is a small town in the Basque country but its historical and cultural significance to the Basque people is beyond measure.

For those of us not from there the name Gernika immediately conjures up the image of Picasso's remarkable painting and the knowledge that there 80 years ago the German Condor Legion, acting in support of Franco s fascists, bombed and strafed this town for over three hours.

Monday, April 26th was market day. It was packed with people. That afternoon almost 50 German warplanes reduced Gernika to rubble.

The town burned for three days.

A third of the population, some 1600 people were either killed or injured.

It was a practice run for the Nazi use of Blitzkrieg several years later.

One of the few things to survive unscathed in the town was 'The Tree of Gernika. When I visited I was brought to see it. An oak, under its branches the local Assembly met to make new laws.

There had been a tree on that spot for 500 years. When one died it was replaced, as was the one I saw, by another grown from one of its acorns.

Consequently, Gernika was and is hugely important to the Basque people. And the tree has become symbolic of the traditional rights of the Basque people.

Today Basque Presidents take their oath there.

And it was this political and cultural significance to the Basque people which saw the fascists seek Gernika's destruction.

Picasso's painting emerged from this atrocity.

The Spanish Republican government had asked Picasso to produce a painting to decorate the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris International Exposition.

The Spanish Civil War was at its height.

The message of the Spanish government, as it fought desperately to defend Spanish democracy against Franco s fascism and its fascist allies in Germany and Italy, was writ large above the entrance to the Pavilion.

We are fighting for the independence of our country and for the right of the Spanish people to determine their own destiny.

And they were joined in this fight for freedom and democracy by many from Ireland and elsewhere around the world. The courage and dedication of the International Brigade, some of whom were from Belfast, is legendary.

Picasso had been searching for inspiration for three months when the bombing of Gernika took place.

Picasso s outrage, and his abhorrence of fascism and its inhumanity and brutality, are all starkly outlined in his jumble of tortured images.

It is an eloquent, moving, inspirational piece of political art.

Picasso himself described it as his statement against Fascism. I clearly express my abhorrence of the military case which has sunk Spain in an ocean of pain and death.

And the representation of Picasso s Guernica reproduced here is a potent reminder of the savagery of war and the obscenity of fascism.

Everyone involved in this piece of work are to be commended for one of the most potent political murals to be produced in a long time.

It is also proof if people were needed that the people of this city have a huge amount in common.

Particularly the working people and those from heartland areas like the Shankill and the Falls. So I particularly welcome Jeanette Ervine s presence here today and her son Mark s contribution to this wonderful piece of art." ENDS

Connect with Sinn Féin