Birmingham City Council has been blasted for making a ‘secret’ decision to include the city’s first Irish Lord Mayor in the long-awaited restoration of the JFK memorial. Former Liberal Democrat councillor Martin Mullaney was ‘incensed’ to learn of the last minute addition of Mike Nangle’s head to the 1968 design, currently being restored to be reinstated in the Irish quarter in Digbeth.
Blogging about his fury at the council, Mr Mullaney claimed the decision a ‘purely political’ one, by the city’s new Labour administration. “Why is Mike Nangle included?” he asked. “Mike was a lovely person but he had absolutely nothing to do with the creation or restoration of the Kennedy memorial. There are far more relevant people who could have been included in the memorial — Bobby Kennedy, Father Maguire of St Catherine’s Church, who raised the money in 1968 to fund the mural, or members of the Irish Welfare group, who with me worked to find a new respectful site.” He added: “This is a purely party political decision. A decision, done in secret, showing how philistine and unethical Birmingham’s Labour administration is.” Birmingham council has defended the decision.
A council spokesperson told The Irish Post: “Mike Nangle was Birmingham’s first Irishborn Lord Mayor, which makes him a significant Irish political figure in history, just as President Kennedy was with his Irish links. His inclusion in the restored memorial is in no way political as he is being included on the basis that he was the Lord Mayor, the non-political first citizen of Birmingham.” The controversy around the decision comes after a long wait to see the mosaic — originally built by artist Kenneth Budd — brought back to its former glory and unveiled to the public once more.
Birmingham’s Irish community raised the funds to build the mural, which was located in St Chad’s Circus until the area was regenerated in 2007. The artist’s son Oliver Budd took on the challenge of recreating the mosaic, to its exact design using his father’s original drawings, and has been working on the mammoth project since January. Kenneth Budd claimed his original theme for the mural was “Kennedy’s attempt to integrate the black and white communities, with some indication of the background of international strife, his Irish ancestry and family life.” It features the American Seal and White House, JFK’s wife and first lady Jackie Kennedy and a water feature representing the Atlantic Ocean.
Birmingham City council had hoped the completed article would be ready to be revealed by First Lady Michelle Obama in the summer, ahead of the Olympic Games, while the American athletics team was based in the city. A date for its unveiling has yet to be decided.