The Genocide Mural


“This mural is a very important piece of work as it raises awareness of the genocide that happened, Rwanda, the genocides that could have happened, Northern Ireland, and the genocides that are happening, Darfur.”

The genocide project was developed to explore the topic of genocide in a number of contexts and was developed across 2 phases:

Phase I of the mural was developed in 2004 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda. A group of students and teachers from two schools – one in East Belfast, the other in Bray, County Wicklow – explored the nature and context of what happened in Rwanda and in Northern Ireland.

Phase II took place in 2007 where students and teachers from schools in Bray and Crumlin, revisited the wall mural and explored the topic of genocide in the context of the current debate around the killings in Darfur.

“I wasn’t aware of genocide when I came here and now that I know about it I think it’s very wrong and something should be done to stop it.”

– Jasmin Boland

“Although the project may not make a difference to the situation in Darfur, we can all say we tried to help, which everyone should be able to say.”

– Kaleen Doyle

The project recorded what the project was about and what participants did during both projects. A resource developed as a result of the project hopes to share the work and experiences with others, highlight the educational dimension of genocide, mark its consequences for those who died and those who survived, and to look at the question – is genocide happening today in Darfur? The resource also challenges the often-asserted view that young people today don’t care – they do! Click here to download the resource.

The 2-phase mural project attempted to:

  • understand the nature and causes of genocide as well as its geography and history in recent decades
  • answer the basic question – what can I do to prevent genocide?

Why study genocide?

“Thus for the time being I have sent to the East only my ‘Death’s Head Units’ with the orders to kill without pity or mercy all men, women, and children of Polish race or language. Only in such a way will we win the vital space that we need. Who still talks nowadays about the Armenians?”

Adolf Hitler to his Army commanders August 22, 1939

In developing and updating the Genocide mural, a series of workshops and discussions took place in Belfast, Bray and Crumlin about the nature and causes of genocide, how genocide happened in Rwanda and in other countries, questioned whether it could happen here in Ireland and (in updating the mural), looked at whether the mass killings in Darfur could be considered genocide. During the workshops, a fundamental question was revisited – why learn about genocide? What follows is our attempt to answer this question (with due acknowledgement to Archbishop Desmond Tutu in The Encyclopaedia of Genocide, ABC-CLIO, Oxford, England, 1999).

So that we try not to forget

The human consequences of genocide are horrific – not just for those who have been killed but for their families and their communities. Whole societies have been profoundly shaped and influenced by historical experiences – while they might appear to be in the past, for many, these experiences are very much a part of the present. The guilt of those who were involved as well as the guilt of those who survived lives on and is capable of shaping new lives positively, and negatively. We need to know about the specific historical settings in which a genocide took place, to whom it happened and by whose hand and in what circumstances. We need to know this if we are to attempt to answer the question – what can we do?

So that we learn

As has been pointed out – ‘those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it’. There are many crucial lessons to be learned – how genocide occurs? What factors and circumstances allow it? What can be done to prevent its recurrence? What the role of government and the broader society are (and could be)? What the role of armies and of ordinary people is (and could be)? etc.

But there are other, equally vital, lessons:

  • That we can experience revulsion and yet be inspired
  • So that we realise that ordinary people are capable of horrific violence (and heroism)
  • That the issue cannot be left to governments and international bodies alone to deal with
  • That the promotion and protection of human rights is vital
  • That specific interventions such as the International Criminal Court are fundamental to the
  • rule of law – and of morality
  • That education against genocide is a fundamental (if insufficient) instrument of prevention, etc
  • As has been pointed out – ‘what we learn from history is that we do not learn from history’.

So that we work to avoid it happening again

As we progress further into the 21st century, our technological capacity increases exponentially – at least here in the so-called ‘developed world’ – yet our moral, legal and political capacities remain stunted by comparison. For example, contrary to what we might believe, genocide is not simply carried out by educationally ‘ignorant’ people but by some of the most sophisticated and ‘learned’ individuals and groups. We need to work to learn what instruments, structures and procedures are needed at national and international levels to attempt to prevent re-occurrences. But, most of all, we need to work to develop a public climate in which the tell-tale signs are not only noted but also loudly challenged. Each and every one of us has a role to play.

To appreciate that it could happen to me

Genocide always seems to happen to other people – Jews, Rwandans, Muslims, etc. And yet, any brief study of genocide makes it clear that it happens to ordinary people, like you and me as well as to their families, communities and countries. It is not confined to any one group of countries in Africa or the Middle East or to poorer countries – it has happened here in Europe and in the so-called ‘civilised world’. Ensuring protection for those at risk of violence ensures all our safety and begins to build an international understanding of the idea of human security.

To support international protection and justice

When a particular group or community comes under attack, international support becomes crucial. Such support can take many forms – political pressure, publicity, sanctions, UN condemnation, intervention, protection, asylum, etc. Support for the UN and for its measures of protection is crucial to those under attack. Bringing to justice those guilty of war crimes is a fundamental part of ensuring that genocide does not happen again. It is an important part of ensuring that revenge does not become the ‘order of the day’ – it is also part of the healing process. Institutions such as the International Criminal Court are a vital part of responding to the realities of genocide.

To realise our capacity for evil and for good

Learning about, and from, the history of genocide tells us much about human nature and about our societies and ourselves. In a word, we should study genocide to learn about what Africans call ‘UBUNTU’ – the essence of being human – that our humanity is bound up with that of others.

The Genocide Mural

The ‘art’ in the mural is important – it is important for a number of reasons – it tries to capture visually some of the realities of genocide; it has a variety of layers that depict some of the complexities of genocide itself and the art is a means of learning – and teaching!

The mural follows in a long international tradition of murals that attempt to capture key aspects of social, political, cultural and economic history. In our case, we used the mural as an educational methodology to investigate and debate the issues that surround genocide. The debates were both ‘internal’ (amongst our group and ourselves individually) and ‘external’ (between ourselves and the ‘viewers’ or those not directly involved in the project).

The mural has a number of layers each with its own theme and debate.

  • The First Layer – we decided to include 3 pieces of important information – places in which genocide and mass killing occurred (or are alleged to have occurred); the dates of such events and the methods used in killing (note that we used the active rather than the passive tense). Some of the dates and places are clearly highly controversial and are hotly contested. For example, the treatment of Aboriginal Australians in the history of that country is a matter of current political debate and potential legal action; the question of the Armenians in 1915 – 1917 (and now a highly political issue in the United States as well as in Turkey) and, of course, the inclusion of Northern Ireland.
  • The Second layer – approached the question of imagery – the traditional image of genocide is that of a mass of skulls – nothing was debated more in the entire project than the use, number and presentation of the skulls (other images were painted originally, subsequently rejected and painted over).
  • The Third layer – in the mural is represented by the survivors’ testimonies – hand-written on the mural – everyone associated with the project was invited to find and include a testimony. This layer represents our attempt to ‘humanise’ the issue of genocide and killing.
  • The Fourth and final layer – includes the eight stages of genocide as identified by Gregory Stanton – this represents the ‘analytical layer’ of the mural (see and is the one around which most ‘learning’ was done. Three years on, we decided to revisit and update the mural to carry on the learning and to reflect the current debate around genocide in Darfur. We also wanted to use the mural (and its accompanying resource) to raise awareness amongst others and to stimulate action on the issue.

What we have learned

About the process…

  • The importance of researching and understanding the issues. The work undertaken by the groups included researching websites, reading, photography, meeting appropriate agencies such as Amnesty International, Irish Aid and ConcernWorldwide
  • People had to use their critical and negotiation skills to analyse what they were doing, why they were doing it and to make decisions about what content should go on the mural to portray what they wanted to say
  • In order to share the information with others, the process needed to be documented at all stages – consciously looking at the process was not something we were familiar with – deciding photos, interviews, quotes, etc
  • The effect of documenting an event or story using art as a tool. We learned the importance of images – the selection and portrayal of them – how to put together a wall mural – from researching the issue through to putting the finishing touches to the final product. We learned not just about the issues but also about the art and use of the art
  • Writing, editing and designing. These were skills developed during the writing of the articles for the resource, the editing and choosing of photos, developing a cover design, etc
  • How to write a press release to tell others about the project and lobby foreign embassies to take action in support of the people of Darfur
  • The importance of working together as a team and keeping each other informed of what each group was working on especially when not everyone took part in every bit
  • By working on this project, we, the participants learned a lot but so too did many others in our school both students and teachers – it encouraged other classes to look at the same issue via sculpture and essay writing
  • That we can make a difference if we bother
  • This was hard work, but it was worth it

Quotes from participants

About the Process:

“During the week we all had great craic but also learned how to work as a team.”

Adam S.

“I learned the value of working as a team member and also I learned how the extent of the damage in Darfur spread through all the neighbouring provinces.”

Cian Byrne

“It was a very worthwhile experience and I learned there are many problems in the world which are rarely mentioned, although they should be.”

Conor Richardson

“Updating the mural really opened my eyes to the atrocities that are occurring in Darfur. I hope that all the work that we have put into it will encourage people to learn more about Darfur. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience!”

Malachi Gillich Healy

“Working on the project was an interesting experience and doing it with a school we had never met before helped create a great team. I’m glad that now I have a better awareness of the subject and issues of genocide.”

Eoin Dixon Murphy

“I’ve learned that I can do a lot for a problem that is so far away.”

Jessica Eccles

“I have learned to work with other people and as a team. I also learned a lot more about genocide and I strongly feel it is wrong.”

Amy King

About Genocide:

“Although the project may not make a difference to the situation in Darfur, we can all say we tried to help, which everyone should be able to say.”

Kaleen Doyle

“It opened up my eyes to the reality of ongoing genocide.”

Donal Duffy

“I have learned so much about Darfur and genocide that I would like to make a difference in the future.”

Ciara Delaney

“I feel that not enough people know about genocide, I didn’t know what it was when we started but now I feel confident enough to tell people about it when I go home. I think that everybody should be aware of what’s going on in Sudan.”

Danielle Davey

“Not everyone knows stuff about genocide, which is a real problem because people can’t help stop this happening. I ‘m glad I did this project because I feel like I’ve helped create awareness about it and in some wayI’m helping people suffering from genocide.”

Amy Maher

“I wasn’t aware of genocide when I came here and now that I know about it I think it’s very wrong and something should be done to stop it.”

Jasmin Boland

“I didn’t know about genocide till I did this project. It was a great experience and I hope to do a lot more about genocide in the future.”

Lorna Forde