The Northern Ireland War Memorial (NIWM) is a registered charity and accredited museum in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter. The NIWM commemorates the men and women of Northern Ireland who died in the First and Second World War. The museum focuses on the story of the Second World War in Northern Ireland with objects and artworks on display which relate to the Belfast Blitz, the American military presence, industry, the role of women and the Ulster Home Guard.
Staff and Trustees of the NIWM travelled to Bushmills on Thursday 5th September for their annual off-site board meeting, this year in the Bushmills Inn Hotel. They seized this opportunity to meet local artist, James McKendry, who was commissioned by the NIWM back in 1960 to create two large copper friezes for the original War Memorial building which opened on Waring Street Belfast in 1963. The copper friezes are 30 feet in length each and they are on display in the museum which relocated to Talbot Street in 2008. They are admired by approximately 11,000 visitors to the NIWM every year.
The upper frieze records the presence of the United States military in Northern Ireland from 1942 to 1944. US soldiers are shown training in the countryside in Northern Ireland under a 48-star US flag. The artist depicts airfields, the Causeway headlands, Port Moon Bay, a traditional Ulster five-bar farm gate and an Antrim round tower. The troops are shown progressing from left to right, disciplined and ordered, equipped with weapons and armaments, ready to embark for the Normandy landings.
The lower frieze illustrates the war effort of men and women on the home front. Depicted left to right are farmers gathering flax and corn, a woman weaving, stone masons rebuilding Belfast after the air raids, a barrage balloon tethered above a linen mill, a fishing boat, a shipbuilding crane, heavy engineering, a welder at work and a countryside scene which includes ‘the steeple’ in Antrim.
McKendry’s internationally acclaimed work can be found in corporate and private collections around the world, including that of the Duke of Edinburgh. McKendry has executed many commissioned murals and sculptures for churches and public buildings in Ireland and abroad. McKendry is now retired and lives in Bushmills with his wife Norri.
In 2018 the NIWM interviewed James McKendry about the artwork he created and how the commission came about in 1960. This was done as part of the NIWM’s ongoing The War and Me oral history project which aims to interview people with wartime memories. James’s interview has now been transcribed and is available to researchers. James remains very proud of the friezes he made for the NIWM, which are to this day his largest works. He was honoured to attend this special event to celebrate his work.
Staff and Trustees of the NIWM were also joined by Leonard Quigg BEM and local historian Keith Beattie as they visited the Robert Quigg VC Memorial, which the NIWM gave grant assistance to in 2016.