Sunday Life

Legend of the Falls

By Joe Oliver
20 February 2005

A NEW £6.4m swimming centre will be opened at an official ceremony on the Falls Road next month - but there'll be no mention of the war hero who first championed its cause.

Even in 1946 - less than 12 months after he was awarded the Victoria Cross - famed frogman James 'Mick' Magennis was battling for a bigger and better pool in his native west Belfast. Sadly, it didn't happen during his lifetime.

But now, just weeks before the state-of-the-art facility opens, another old 'sea dog' has urged Gerry Adams and other local representatives not to forget the man who inspired it.

The West Belfast MP knows the old Falls baths site well - he used to paddle there as a toddler. And he would also be aware of Leading Seaman Magennis' reputation as the only man from Northern Ireland to win Britain's highest military decoration, as he attended the same school, St Finian's.

Former Royal Navy veteran George Fleming, whose 1998 book about the VC hero was widely acclaimed, said: "The opening of this swimming centre is something Mick Magennis would loved to have seen.

"When he returned from the war, Mick gave a series of swimming and diving filmshows at the baths, and campaigned ceaselessly for a bigger pool on the site. It was there that he learned to swim."

George said it was a pity Belfast City Council hadn't included some small tribute to Mick in the new centre.

"I know the politics and nationalist views of some might sour at the idea of such a gesture, but who cares," he added.

"The water in which people will be swimming is neither political nor religious - unless it is holy water . . . or Boyne water!

"It would be an added attraction to the centre, with a spin-off for tourism and a reminder of a true local hero."

Magennis won the VC for his part in a midget submarine attack on the Japanese warship Takao, in Singapore harbour in July 1945. He and three colleagues evaded enemy defences to steer their sub under the 10,000-tonne Takao and attach limpet mines to its hull.

Magennis died in poverty in his wife's home town of Bradford in 1986. After a long campaign, Mr Fleming persuaded the council to erect a 6ft monument to him in the grounds of Belfast City Hall.

"I just feel it would be wonderful to include some reference to this remarkable man at the scene where he learned to swim," he added.

A council spokeswoman said: "There is a memorial to Leading Seaman Magennis in the grounds of the City Hall, and we can't really say anything more than that."


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