Northern Ireland: Sectarian Footballs

Objects loaded with the history of the Troubles are scattered around Belfast, but sensitivity means the debate about how and where to exhibit them rumbles on, says James Morrison.

For many people, mention of the Troubles recalls televised images of flying bottles at Orange parades, car bombs and tub-thumping speeches by Unionist and Republican leaders. But for families embroiled in the conflict on a daily basis, it would seem the nittygritty of life under siege was both more prosaic and more sinister.

Homemade bombs, secret missives scrawled on toilet paper and footballs daubed with sectarian threats are among a macabre collection of recently uncovered relics that bear witness to a largely unrecorded ‘hidden history’of the conflict. Now, some of these privately owned items are to be unveiled publicly, as the community-based organisation that located their whereabouts unveils plans for an exhibition in light of progress in the peace process.

While grislier material may spark the keenest interest, it represents a tiny fraction of the thousands of objects pinpointed in an ‘artefacts audit’ by Belfast-based charity Healing Through Remembering. In all, the organisation – formed in 2000 to invite proposals for a cross-community Troubles memorial – has identified 79 hoards located in private collections across the British Isles.

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