A few years ago I wrote a piece about Belfast’s forgotten memorial to victims of the Troubles in Jubilee Square. We include it in our tours and tell our guests about how it is the only outdoor public memorial related to the Troubles in Belfast and that it was installed in 1976 to commemorate the 1,500 people who (at that point) had lost their lives to the conflict.
It was commissioned by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), designed by the famed Dublin artist Robert Ballagh, (who also sold Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy his first bass guitar!) and created by the Irish ceramicist Stephen Pearce.
Ballagh had previously painted a number of pictures depicting the violence of the Troubles. The memorial wall however is more abstract – a mosaic of green and brown terracotta numbered tiles in a variety of sequences, but ultimately listing every digit from one to one thousand five hundred.
At the bottom right hand corner there is a dedication which reads:
“To The Memory Of Those Who Died From Violence From July 1969 To April 1976.
Designed By Robert Ballagh
Made By Steve”
We noticed just before Christmas 2022 that the memorial had been defaced by graffiti. It’s very possible that whoever did it had no idea of the significance of the piece – from a distance it looks like a bricked-up doorway in the old perimeter wall of St. George’s Church. In fact for a few years we led our walking tours right past it, never realising its importance – until one day we walked a little closer and realised what it was.
Nevertheless, we were disappointed when we realised that by February nothing had been done to clean the memorial.
We contacted Belfast City councillors and they passed our concerns on to the council, but nothing happened. We couldn’t help thinking that if the Titanic Memorial in the grounds of the City Hall had been spray painted, it would have been cleaned immediately. Months went by and we waited. We heard from other contacts that they had also raised it with the council and were told that they were “looking into it”. More months passed.
Then I just thought “Sod it, I’ll do it myself”.
I checked with a few ceramics experts to make sure I wasn’t risking doing any damage to the piece – they advised that nail varnish remover and cotton wool would be a safe approach. It took a few hours and a few trips to Gordon’s Chemists (where the assistant raised an eyebrow at the industrial quantities of stuff I was getting through) and I was knackered afterwards. But the memorial is clean and, if I do say so myself, looking good in the Belfast summer sun. I’m going to reward myself with a cider.
It would be nice to think it won’t happen again, though I may be a little over optimistic in thinking that. But if it does – well, at least the council now knows that nail varnish remover and cotton wool does the trick. Oh, and a good bit of elbow grease.
Special thanks to John Baucher for taking the action photos!