John F Kennedy memorial mosaic
back on show
25 February 2013
by Catherine Lillington
An iconic Birmingham landmark erected in memory of murdered US president John F Kennedy has made a long-awaited return to the city.
The JFK memorial mosaic was taken down from St Chad’s Circus where it had stood for 34 years in 2002 so that the area could be regenerated. Now it is taking pride of place on Digbeth High Street, near South and City College.
Birmingham’s Irish community commissioned Kenneth Budd to create the artwork – collecting £5,000 worth of donations – following the Kennedy assassination in 1963. Maurice Malone, the chief executive of the Irish in Birmingham charity said the community had spent the last 11 years trying to bring back the JFK mosaic.
He said: “Irish people held him in high regard. Being the first Roman Catholic president won him a place in their hearts. When you’re driving in and out of the city you’ll be able to see it and we hope it will provide a visitor attraction.”
Kate Barry, trustee of Irish in Birmingham, said: “There was time and effort and thought put into commissioning it in the 1960s. It’s just fantastic we have got a new location for it and the legacy of those people is not forgotten.”
Teresa Pattinson, aged 88, who moved to Birmingham from Limerick, said: “It’s really wonderful for the Irish community to see it reinstated. Let’s hope that it’s left alone and people will learn from it the messages within this mosaic when they see the different nationalities. Kennedy was a great man.”
Artist Kenneth Budd died in 1985. His work was faithfully recreated by his son Oliver, aged 52, who followed Kenneth’s original drawings. It took Kenneth two years to complete all 11-and-a-half metres by three metres of the mosaic.
Oliver helped to unveil the piece and said: “Eleven years and 250,000 pieces of mosaic later – JFK’s back at last!” He explained that every piece of the mosaic was hand-cut or put in by hand and said it took a year to build. He modestly added that it took his dad longer because he had been busy with other work.
“He’d be ever so chuffed to see it come back. It’s ten years since it was taken away from St Chad’s,” said Oliver. “He was always very appreciative of the Irish community in Birmingham because they funded the original one. It’s cultural identity for the Irish community, it’s part of their heritage and it was going to be lost. We have resurrected this landmark and it’s in the right place now in the Irish community.”
Some members of the Irish community voiced concern at the addition to the mosaic of the late Coun Mike Nangle, the city’s first Ireland-born mayor. His widow Margaret, who was also at the unveiling, said: “If he gets on I said I want him tucked away in a corner. Everybody has a right to their own opinions and thank heavens it’s a free world.”