“The Petrol Bomber” was painted in the summer of 1994 by the Bogside Artists for the 25th anniversary of the Battle of the Bogside. The image was originally the first mural one saw when entering the Bogside, although now the John Hume Mural holds that position. The image is a hybrid created by the artists. The boy depicted is based on a photograph of Paddy Coyle, the cousin of Tom and William Kelly, but the image is also based on the front cover of a book about the battle, written by Clive Limpkin. The image was then adapted by the artists, who added police officers, the Rossville flats, which saw much of the action, and CS gas. “The Petrol Bomber” is one of the most photographed murals in the world.
Children are used in violent images like this one to illicit visceral reactions from viewers. The child is entrenched in a violent culture, holding a bomb. The gas mask serves a dual purpose; firstly, it helps convey the dangerous surroundings of the boy, and secondly, it provides anonymity, meaning the child can be a stand-in for any child. The light colored reflection on the gas mask encourages the audience to look at the boy’s partially obscured eyes. The CS gas is coming from the right side of the image, but begins wrapping around the child. The boy is also clearly a stand-in for Ireland, as denoted by the Ireland badge on his shirt. The child becomes representative of every Irish citizen as well as Ireland as a whole. The child is used to convey vulnerability and innocence; he is the helpless victim of his environment. Even the fact that he about to throw a bomb is undercut by his age.