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Book Launch of 'Honouring the Fallen and Serving the Living; The History of the Northern Ireland War Memorial'

On Thursday 16 November 2023, the Northern Ireland War Memorial hosted the launch of Honouring the Fallen and Serving the Living; The History of the Northern Ireland War Memorial, a Northern Ireland War Memorial publication by Michael Burns.

Professor Michael Longely CBE, Vice Lord Lieutenant of Belfast Dr Alan Logan DL, Vice Chair of the NIWM Board Mrs Catherine Champion DL, Author Michael Burns and High Sheriff of Belfast, John Kyle
Professor Michael Longley CBE, Vice Lord Lieutenant of Belfast Dr Alan Logan DL, Vice Chair of the NIWM Board Mrs. Catherine Champion DL, Author Michael Burns and the High Sheriff of Belfast John Kyle

Principle guests in attendance included the Vice Lord Lieutenant of Belfast, Dr Alan Logan DL; the High Sheriff of Belfast, Mr John Kyle; Irish poet Professor Michael Longley CBE, and Dr Paul Roelle, Colonel, US Air Force (Retired) representing the US Consulate in Belfast. Representatives from organisations that have played an important role in the NIWM’s history also attended; Belfast City Council, the Royal British Legion, the Royal Ulster Rifles Museum, and National Museums Northern Ireland.

Invited guests included individuals who have donated objects and stories to the museum collection, people associated with the Waring Street and Talbot Street buildings, and those who are involved in the museum’s current work as an accredited museum.

Author Michael Burns speaking at the launch
Author Michael Burns speaking at the launch

Founded shortly after the end of the Second World War, the Northern Ireland War Memorial (NIWM) was intended to be a living memorial to the fallen in the First and Second World war. Following an inaugural meeting at Belfast City Hall in July 1948, the offices of the NIWM opened on High Street, Belfast, on 16 November 1948. From three converted tramcars placed on blitzed ground, various fundraising appeals were successfully launched. After almost fifteen years of planning and fundraising, the War Memorial building on Waring Street was opened by HRH, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother in October 1963. It was built on blitzed land gifted to the NIWM by Belfast Corporation.

Since then, the organisation has gone through some major changes and developments; surviving the difficult years of the Troubles, shifting its focus to become a Home Front Heritage Centre in the 1990s, and then relocating to Talbot Street to become an Accredited museum in 2013.

This book chronicles the history of the NIWM and celebrates the important contributions made by trustees and council members and organisations such as the Royal British Legion, Belfast City Council (formerly Belfast Corporation) and National Museums Northern Ireland.

As the organisation reflects on the 75th anniversary of the opening of its fundraising offices on High Street, Belfast, on 16 November 1948, it remains committed to commemorating the fallen of both world wars.

Tramcar offices opening on High Street, Belfast, 16 November 1948. Courtesy of Michael Longley.
Tramcar offices opening on High Street, Belfast, 16 November 1948. Courtesy of Michael Longley.

On the night, Vice Chair of the NIWM, Catherine Champion DL thanked all involved in producing the publication, including the book’s author, Michael Burns who is a Research Officer at the NIWM.

Professor Michael Longley CBE
Professor Michael Longley CBE

Invited guest, Professor Michael Longley CBE, reflected on his father as a soldier and as a fundraiser. Major Richard Longley was heavily involved in the NIWM’s early fundraising appeals as Organising Secretary of the War Memorial Building Fund until July 1949. Michael shared his memories of visiting the tramcar offices and of tasting huge slabs of icing which came from a two-tonne cake which was baked to raise money for the War Memorial Building Fund in 1949. This was one of the many inventive and whimsical appeals his father organised to raise funds for the original War Memorial on Waring Street. Michael Longley then read two of his poems, Citation and Ceasefire, both of which were very fitting for the event.

High Sheriff of Belfast, John Kyle
High Sheriff of Belfast, Mr John Kyle

The High Sheriff of Belfast, Mr John Kyle, attended representing Belfast City Council. He commented on how Belfast Corporation had been involved throughout the NIWM’s history, through representation on the NIWM Council and through donating a blitzed site on Waring Street for the original War Memorial.

Author Michael Burns highlighted several new discoveries made while researching and writing the book. He introduced two short films created by UTV in 1963 highlighting the opening of the War Memorial on Waring Street. These were shown thanks courtesy of NI Screen's Digital Film Archive. He also outlined how involved representatives from National Museums Northern Ireland were in the NIWM’s journey to become a Heritage Centre and now an accredited museum.

Vice Lord Lieutenant Dr Alan Logan DL speaking at the event
Vice Lord Lieutenant Dr Alan Logan DL speaking at the event

The Vice Lord Lieutenant of Belfast, Dr Alan Logan DL, reflected on the innovative and inclusive work of the NIWM today. He thanked past and current trustees and council members for their valuable voluntary contributions.

Honouring the Fallen and Serving the Living Book Cover
Honouring the Fallen and Serving the Living Book Cover

Honouring the Fallen and Serving the Living is available to purchase from the Northern Ireland War Memorial for £10.

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