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Mystery as Cave Hill stone which guided pilots during WWII restored to former glory

By Linda Stewart

Published 17/05/2016

The stone as it looks today after the graffiti was removed
The stone as it looks today after the graffiti was removed
The stone with graffiti on it
The inscription added nearby

A huge rock on Cave Hill that was used to guide aircraft back home during World War Two has been painted white by an unknown person to remind walkers of the role it once played.

An inscription was also added next to the stone, which was previously covered in graffiti, reading: "The white stone has been restored in honour of the family who painted it during WW2."

Cormac Hamill, chair of the Cave Hill Conservation Campaign, said he only recently discovered that the rock was used as a marker and that a man who lived in Cave Hill Cottage was paid a small sum to keep it painted white.

"For many years, I thought people had painted the stone green, orange, red and blue to reflect tensions in the area," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"It was only recently that I discovered there was a chap who had a subvention during the war to paint the stone. It actually was a marker stone for aircraft to come in as they couldn't put the runway lights on."

Over the years, as its role was forgotten, people continued to paint the stone in various colours. More recently it became covered in what Cormac called "silly schoolboy graffiti".

"It had become a grotesque caricature of what it was," Mr Hamill said.

"My understanding is that somebody who knew the family went up and painted it white. It's a nod to the guy who slogged his way up there regularly. It was a contribution to the war effort and it seems an appropriate time to remember it."

The huge rock is visible from the city below, but getting to it is much trickier.

"If people go to the west of McArt's Fort and drop down, they can have fun looking for it," Cormac said. "It's hidden by the slope until you are on top of it."

In 2008, Alan Caulfield told the BBC how his father Jack lived in Cave Hill Cottage, close to a well where walkers would stop for refreshment in the 1940s.

"My grandfather, William Adair Caulfield, was a postman and was married to Nelly Caulfield (nee Ellen Wisener) from Lisnagunogue, outside Bushmills," he explained.

"I remember my father, Jack, telling me that my grandfather was paid a small sum - I think £5 - to keep a large rock at the top of Cavehill (on the forehead) painted white because it was used as a beacon during the war for pilots landing at Nutts Corner airfield during blackouts when the lights of Belfast could not be seen."

Dr Jim Bradley, from the Belfast Hills Partnership, said it was a great shame that the stone had been painted over and covered with graffiti, particularly because it is a part of Cave Hill's heritage that dates back many years.

"As also shown in the recent fires we've had close by on the hill, we all need to treat our local landscape and the efforts of local people and volunteers to keep it in a good state with a bit more respect," he added.

Belfast Telegraph

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