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Last Updated: Monday, 19 September 2005, 10:22 GMT 11:22 UK
Catholic face in loyalist estate
A Catholic war hero has replaced a paramilitary death figure on the wall of a staunchly loyalist estate in east Belfast.

An Ulster Freedom Fighters mural depicting a soldier with a skull's head, and a silhouette of the grim reaper in the background, stared out from a wall in Tullycarnet for many years.

James Magennis was recognised for his bravery in WWII
James Magennis was recognised for his bravery in WWII

However, it has been replaced by a portrait of award winning World War II sailor James Magennis, to mark the 60th anniversary of VE Day.

Magennis, from the nationalist Falls Road in west Belfast, is the only Northern Ireland man to have been awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery during WWII.

The highest British decoration marked his courage in attaching limpet mines to the Japanese cruiser, Takao, in Singapore harbour in July 1945.

George Fleming, who has written a book about Magennis, said initially the hero was well received on his return to Northern Ireland.

"James Magennis was a Catholic and when he returned at the end of the war he was feted wonderfully, because people collected a lot of money for him," said Mr Fleming.

"Unfortunately, the corporation at the time refused him the Freedom of the City. Magennis went back to sea again, they thought they would never see him again.

"He landed home in 1949 after his service was over and that's really when the trouble began. At that time there was a split with Eire... Magennis really wasn't wanted by both sides."

'Better understanding'

Frankie Gallagher of the Ulster Political Research Group, which provides political analysis for the Ulster Defence Association, said it was not particularly strange to have such a mural in a loyalist stronghold.

He said: "When you know local history, it is not such a strange thing to happen. One of the challenges of this mural is education, it's about learning local history.

"We spend all our years learning about English Tudors and all the rest of it and we don't actually know what happened to each other across the divides.

"With taking this type of approach we are going to end up with a better understanding of each others' perspectives within each others' communities.

"The surprising thing about this mural, as well, is that our friends in west Belfast were actually the first people to think of the whole idea about James Magennis up on the Springfield Road, the Highfield interface. It was about trying to create an understanding about a shared history."

He said the mural ended up in Tullycarnet because of the recent trouble in north Belfast.

A six-foot high memorial to Magennis made from Portland stone and bronze stands at the front of Belfast City Hall.

It was erected in 1999, 13 years after his death.

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