Battle of Jutland tribute to transform Belfast street 100 years on
Mural to Irish sailors killed in WWI clash will transform graffiti black spot
A graffiti black spot off Belfast's Shankill Road has been transformed into a memorial to the First World War's most important sea battle.
First Minister Arlene Foster is due to launch the Jutland Square project on Friday - an art installation commemorating more than 300 sailors from all over Ireland who lost their lives at the Battle of Jutland, the centenary of which falls on May 31.
The project, commissioned by the City of Belfast Army Benevolent Fund at the Spectrum Centre, consists of a seven-panel artwork on a wall at Tennent Street.
There will also be an exhibition on board HMS Caroline, the only surviving warship from the battle, which is due to open to the public as a museum this year.
The art installation will be Ireland's first Battle of Jutland memorial to feature a list of all the Irishmen who lost their lives in the naval engagement, along with diary extracts charting the course of the clash with German warships between May 31 and June 1, 1916.
The project will also feature a series of community film and lectures about the battle, delivered by Sea Cadet Officer Lt Cdr Leslie King.
Pete Bleakley from the Shared History workshop said the British lost the battle, with more than 5,000 casualties compared to 2,500 on the German side - yet it was the battle that won the war.
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"The significance of the battle is that the Royal Navy was the most powerful navy in the world at the time. It was blockading German ports and stopping imports of food and steel, slowly strangling the German war effort," he said.
"After the battle the German Navy did not come out of their ports again to full-scale engage - there was no appetite for a second encounter."
By the end of the war the German sailors were not being fed nor paid and a series of mutinies led to the full-scale collapse of their navy. "We didn't win on the day, but we gave the German Navy enough of a hiding that they didn't come out to fight again," Mr Bleakley said.
Some 348 Irish sailors died in the sea battle, many of them young boys who had joined up at the age of 15.
"This is the first memorial to all the sailors from these shores who died at the Battle of Jutland. It lists all the names, all the ships on one board. Another focuses on HMS Caroline and includes photographs and diary extracts from the battle.
"There is another set of boards focusing on the four or five large battle cruisers that exploded when they were shelled, with catastrophic loss of life.
"In some cases, more than 1,000 men were lost when the ship exploded. The only people who survived were up in the crow's nest and were blown clear. The British ships were really just big metal coffins with explosives in the middle," Mr Bleakley added.
The display will go up in a section of car park that has been plagued with graffiti, close to the Spectrum Centre.
"These aren't sectarian or paramilitary murals. They are designed to remind the PUL (Protestant, unionist, loyalist) communities of their history and culture," Mr Bleakley said. "Having run the Friends of HMS Caroline campaign back in 2012, it gives me considerable satisfaction to be able to bring the story of the ship and the Battle Of Jutland to a wider audience through this exciting NIHE-funded project."
Karen O'Rawe from History Hub Ulster, which conducted research for the memorial, said: "The Jutland Square Project is a timely reminder of the sacrifice of so many men from these shores who fought at sea. The maritime war and the impact of it on our island tends to be overlooked, but as an island nation, keeping the seas safe and the supplies flowing to feed the people of Britain and Ireland was vital.
"Belfast will mark the centenary of the Battle of Jutland with a commemoration to the Irish sailor, which will officially recognise the contribution of all those in maritime roles on the island of Ireland during the First World War period."
HMS Caroline is a light cruiser docked in Alexandra Dock and currently undergoing a £14.5m restoration, funded by Heritage Lottery Fund and Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment. It will open to the public on June 1. First Minister Mrs Foster has been a supporter of it since the Friends Of HMS Caroline campaign in 2012.
The commemoration to the Irish sailors in the First World War will take place on May 31. HMS Caroline will provide a focal point for the proceedings.