Photographers' Blog

Weapons at hand

Belfast, Northern Ireland

By Cathal McNaughton

As I was driving home one night after covering civil unrest in Belfast, I looked at the objects sitting on the passenger seat. There was a golf ball and two snooker balls: objects thrown at members of the police and media by rioters.

I decided that it would be interesting to see how many of these items I could collect over the coming months at the various riots that were sure to follow. The idea was interesting but the difficulty was going to be adding some life to these inanimate objects. They ranged from the ridiculous (a ball covered in insulating tape) to the lethal (a petrol bomb and a hammer).

There were some things I could not collect, such as scaffolding and even a bedside cabinet, due to their size and the dangers of trying to retrieve them.

In the end, I got members of the community to hold the items in an attempt to show how everyone, young and old, male and female, is touched by the continued sectarian trouble between Catholic nationalists who want union with Ireland and mainly Protestant loyalists who want to stay in the United Kingdom. The police service here has spent more than £15 million ($24 million) policing parades and protests since April this year and 689 officers have been injured in such disorder since July 2012.

It has also emerged that it is costing around £300,000 ($480,000) a week to police the nightly loyalist protests in north Belfast. These demonstrations started on July 12 when Orangemen were banned from parading past the shops at Ardoyne.

The writing’s on the wall

Belfast, Northern Ireland

By Cathal McNaughton

A five meter high mural of a gunman dressed in army fatigues and a balaclava, clutching an AK-47 painted on the gable end of a 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 with a backdrop of politically charged murals 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 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.

A barrier to peace

Belfast, Northern Ireland

By Cathal McNaughton

“Sure, why would they want to pull down these walls?” asks William Boyd mildly as he offers me a cup of tea in his home at Cluan Place, a predominantly Loyalist area of east Belfast.

He pulls back his net curtains to show me the towering 20-foot-high wall topped with a fence that looms over his home blocking out much of the natural light.

GALLERY: NORTHERN IRELAND’S PEACE WALLS

But what becomes apparent to me as William shows me around the pensioner’s bungalow he’s lived in for 12 years is that he’s not expecting an answer to his question. Rather, it’s clear he has become so used to living in conditions that most people would find prison-like that he finds it completely normal.

Living without electricity for 29 years

By Cathal McNaughton

John McCarter is 77 years old and has been living without mains electricity at his home at Downhill, Londonderry county, for 29 years.

It seems incredible that a pensioner who lives so close to the prosperous Causeway Coast tourist area in Northern Ireland is allowed to live in such basic conditions.

However, John is the perfect host and couldn’t have made me more welcome when I arrived at his modest wooden cottage set against the backdrop of the dramatic Co Derry coastline.

The trouble with Northern Ireland

Tradition is something that is celebrated, enjoyed and handed down to the next generation, but in the small corner of western Europe where I was born, it has led to shootings and bombings and the loss of thousands of lives.

For 16 years I’ve worked as a photographer covering ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland and in this time I’ve come to realize that what one side of the political and religious divide sees as celebration, the other sees as triumphalism.

The Twelfth of July parades are one such tradition that sparked disturbances on the streets of Belfast this week with rioters throwing petrol bombs and police responding with plastic bullets as Catholics and Protestants once again clashed.