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Joseph Kavanagh: Belfast's renowned entrepreneur and celebrated philanthropist

Joe Kavanagh was born on February 7, 1917 in Winetavern Street, Belfast, and became one of the most celebrated businessmen of the city.

In 1938, at the age of 21, the budding entrepreneur started his business in Smithfield Market. He placed his first advertisement in a news-sheet with the words "I Buy Anything" – and so a legendary catchphrase of the city was born.

In 1963 he put an advertisement in the Belfast Telegraph offering a piano for sale "for only three and a half pence, on condition that the buyer should be six feet tall, with blond hair, brown eyes and able to play the opening bars of the Beatles' hit A Hard Day's Night".

The challenge was taken up by a 21-year-old bank clerk from Newtownards who fitted the bill, played the tune and Joe handed over the piano, with eager photographers in attendance.

As his prosperity grew, Joe was anxious to benefit others. As a founding member of the Young Philanthropists, he was instrumental with others in establishing a charity (the YP Pools) and raising over £1 million in the 1950s to save the Mater Hospital from closure.

The construction of the hospital's McAuley Building, where he and his late wife Bernadette died, was funded entirely through the fund. In the 1960s, Joe served on the executive committee of the Belfast Council of Social Welfare, the largest umbrella charitable organisation in Northern Ireland. Joe, also a Justice of the Peace, sat on the management committee of Whiteabbey Hospital and the Blood Transfusion Service.

And when decorated Royal Navy Seaman James Magennis fell on hard times in 1952, Joe bought his Victoria Cross from him and then gave it back to him free on condition that he would not sell it again during his lifetime.

Joe was also a talented lyricist and wrote numerous ballads.

In his lifetime, Joe declined a number of public honours. In 2006 Belfast City Council commissioned an exhibition called 'No Mean City' to celebrate the centenary of Belfast City Hall.

The exhibition profiles 52 of Belfast`s most celebrated citizens, including Sir James Galway and George Best. Only one citizen was actually voted in by the public – Joseph Kavanagh.

Joe is survived by his brother, sister, his five children and six grandchildren.

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