Belfast Telegraph

You can't 'seafarer' than that!

Loyalists replace UFF mural with tribute to Catholic VC Navy hero

By Joe Oliver

A MURAL dedicated to the UFF has been removed in a loyalist estate - to make way for a giant painting of a CATHOLIC war hero!

A MURAL dedicated to the UFF has been removed in a loyalist estate - to make way for a giant painting of a CATHOLIC war hero!

The 26ftx30ft memorial to Leading Seaman James Magennis now dominates a gable wall at Tullycarnet in east Belfast. It replaces a grisly UFF 'grim reaper' mural in the style of heavy metal album cover.

The new mural was painted by artist Kenny Blair as part of celebrations to mark the 60th anniversary of the Allied victories in Europe and the Pacific.

Its unveiling was attended by a host of VIP guests representing the UN, Royal Naval Association, British Legion and the Submariners Association.

West Belfast-born Magennis (pictured) won the Victoria Cross - British highest military decoration - for an incredible act of bravery during a mini-sub attack on the Japanese warship Takao in Singapore harbour in 1945.

Magennis and three colleagues evaded enemy defences to steer their midget sub under the 10,000-ton vessel and attach mines to it.

Magennis made a second dangerous dive in the freezing waters to free the snagged containers holding the limpet mines.

Six days later the first Atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.

When Magennis returned home he was feted at Buckingham Palace, but became a shuttlecock in Ulster's great divide.

On his return to his old school, St Finian's on the Falls Road, pupils refused to stand for a "Brit" hero.

Magennis eventually settled in his wife's hometown of Bradford and lived there until his death in 1986.

The story would have ended there but for a campaign orchestrated by George Fleming, who wrote a book about Magennis' remarkable exploits. He eventually persuaded councillors in Belfast to erect a 6ft-high monument at the City Hall in memory of the only man from Northern Ireland to win a VC.

George, an ex-sailor, attended the unveiling of the Magennis mural and admitted: "It's wonderful to see this here. It shows courage crosses all boundaries and I think it's a magnificent gesture by the good people of Tullycarnet."

Loyalist Commission member Frankie Gallagher said: "The story of James Magennis - who lived in east Belfast for a time - is a fascinating one and this mural tells it brilliantly.

"We've removed all the other murals, too, and the one it's replacing is the UFF 'grim reaper'.

"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."

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