14 October 2006

Giving ground and gable ends

The British and Irish press are carrying stories which seem to indicate that devolved government may be returning to Northern Ireland. A key obstacle (but not the only one) has been the fact power would have to be shared between the two largest parties, the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein. Both sides seem to have given considerable ground and power sharing now seems to be a realistic prospect.

Rather than dwell on this subject I would rather highlight a story based on a report on the Northern Ireland submariners Association website.

James Magennis

Last year a Mural dedicated to the Ulster Freedom Fighters (a loyalist terrorist group) and looking for all the world like an Iron Maiden cover was removed to make way for a giant painting of James Magennis, the only person from Northern Ireland to win the Victoria Cross during WWII. The memorial, which dominates a gable wall at Tullycarnet in east Belfast, was painted by artist Kenny Blair as part of celebrations to mark the 60th anniversary of the Allied victories in Europe and the Pacific.

Magennis was awarded the VC for taking part in an attack on Japanese warships in the Straits of Johore in Singapore in exceptionally difficult circumstances. Although feted in England, he was did not receive the anything like the same reception in Belfast: pupils at his old school refused to stand for what they considered a "Brit" hero and it is believed that official recognition was denied to him because of bigotry from both sides of the sectarian divide. In the end he settled in Bradford and lived there until his death in 1986. A memorial to him was finally unveiled at Belfast City Hall. In 1999

Loyalist Commission member Frankie Gallagher said: "The story of James Magennis is a fascinating one and this mural tells it brilliantly. This is part of a five-year strategy for the Tullycarnet estate to address what is the fourth-worst education attainment level in Northern Ireland. Education is a major issue and by putting up this mural we want children to learn about their own history, and the diversity of their own history. It is vital, and the children themselves will be building a memorial garden at the site in the near future."

Quite tellingly the Mural was unveiled by Democratic Unionist Party MP Peter Robinson. Earlier this year members of the DUP attended the Republic’s commemoration of the 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme

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