PLANS for a War Memorial in Cairncastle have been backed by Mid & East Antrim Borough Council with DUP councillor Andrew Clarke saying: “I can’t imagine it being controversial…the Second World War fighting Nazis…I’m sure it will be welcomed by all sections of the community”.
The comments were made at the main September meeting of the Council in Ballymena.
The meeting was told the Council’s Chief Executive Anne Donaghy received a request from the Chairperson of the Friends of the 36th Ulster Division Cairncastle requesting that the Council puts in place a base for a proposed War Memorial to the men and women who had fallen during the First and Second World Wars.
Coast Road area DUP councillor Angela Smyth said she was glad to see it on the agenda and said it was “only fitting” that the group was helped and she proposed it.
Coast Road Alliance representative, Alderman Gerardine Mulvenna, asked if the local Community Association had been consulted and she wanted to know the exact location of the Memorial.
She said there were perhaps War Memorials in churches and the Orange Hall and said “regardless of where it is there should be consultation”.
Coast Road DUP councillor Andrew Clarke seconded Cllr Smyth’s proposal and said it was important that residents had a sense of pride and connection to their area “and this War Memorial is another way of bringing local identification with the area”.
He said there were some people from the area who were not commemorated on other memorials like in Larne town.
“I can’t imagine it being controversial…the Second World War fighting Nazis…I’m sure it will be welcomed by all sections of the community”.
Coast Road Sinn Fein councillor James McKeown asked if the Chief Executive could guarantee that “this request goes through the same scrutiny and consultation within the community as previous consultations have”.
That was believed to be a reference to a previous controversy regarding a Republican memorial in Carnlough.
In 2016, workers removed a 3ft memorial which had been put on council land without permission.
The memorial had been placed to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising.
The Chief Executive told this week’s meeting the Council had a ‘memorials and commemorations framework’ and she said would advance with that as a guide.
Larne Lough DUP councillor Gregg McKeen said: “I think when you look at this the request for a War Memorial in Cairncastle is a fitting tribute to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
“Whatever religion you were your name will be on this memorial so I think we are getting hung up here on the way forward.
“We should be sending a message out clear from this Council that we are there to commemorate and recognise those that paid the ultimate sacrifice so we can sit here around this chamber and debate tonight and that’s what those in the First and Second World War in conflicts gave their lives to enable us to do that.”
He said he knew Alderman Mulvenna said there were perhaps Memorial plates in churches and halls. Cllr McKeen added: “But when those buildings are closed a family member cannot go and see a name on a tablet or a name on a stone so this is about bringing it out into the centre of the community.”
Braid councillor Brian Collins (TUV) said the “brave men and women who laid down their lives – of all classes creeds and religions – in order for us to have our say I don’t think they consulted any groups or anything like that when they laid their lives down freely for our freedom and as regards a place for the monument it should be in a prominent and fitting place for heroes”.
At that stage Cllr McKeown said he had to leave as he had “an emergency”.
Ald Mulvenna said: “I just want to make it very clear that I have the greatest respect and admiration for all those…and I think War Memorials are an excellent recognition but what is important is that it does have to have consultation and if that includes that whole commemorative framework”.
The Chief Executive said the application would be put through the memorial framework.
A show of hands for the proposal was taken and it was agreed to erect the base for the Memorial in Cairncastle.
There was controversy in Cairncastle a number of months ago when a so-called ‘Ghost Tommy’ was vandalised.
At the time Cllr McKeen accused vandals of stooping “as low as you can go” by attacking a ‘Ghost Tommy’ silhouette which was erected to mark the 100th anniversary of the ending of World War One.
The metal structures were put up in a number of areas in the Mid & East Antrim Borough Council area.
Alderman Gregg McKeen (DUP) had told ‘Ballymena Daily’ at the time: “This was just disgraceful and an act of vandalism on a memorial to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in World War One.
“It is a memorial to Unionists and Nationalists, Protestants and Catholics who fought, these symbols were a mark of respect to all and it is disappointing that somebody would stoop so low to damage this – it’s as low as you can go.”
The councillor had said there was anger in the area about what happened.
He said the incident happened just days after Cllr McKeown had commented in the media about the ‘Ghost Tommy’ at Cairncastle.
Previously, Cllr McKeown said there had been no consultation on the erection of the figure in Cairncastle which he said was in a mixed area.
Following the vandalism, Cllr McKeown condemned it.
The councillor told ‘Ballymena Daily’ at the time: “It was a wanton act of vandalism and should be condemned by all right thinking people and I condemn it.
“No matter what you think of how someone remembers their dead you should definitely respect their dead”.
Cllr McKeown said his issue with the original siting of the ‘Ghost Tommy’ in Cairncastle was that there had been no consultation with the community as there had been regarding a Republican memorial in Carnlough.
The Ghost Tommies initiative was part of the 2018 Armistice Project, There But Not There, which the organisers said aimed to educate all generations, particularly today’s younger generation, to understand what led to the horrific loss of life.
The Tommies also supported a new charity called Remembered. Its aim was to raise £15million for Armed Forces and mental health charities to help heal those suffering from the hidden wounds of post-traumatic stress disorder and other lasting legacies of combat, by raising funds for their beneficiary charities.