LIMAVADY has been asked to assess the way it celebrates one of its most famous sons – one of New Zealand’s longest serving Prime Ministers, William F. Massey.
The state of the plaque at Irish Green Street is a “disgrace”, according to DUP MLA George Robinson, who said at Limavady Borough Council that its condition is the “one thing that grates the most.”
A new association, the William F. Massey Foundation, has recently been established in the town and held a short service to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of Mr Massey ascending to the role of Prime Minister in his adopted land of New Zealand.
The Foundation wrote to the Mayor and other councillors to raise strongly held views about the lack of commemoration and celebration of Mr Massey, whom Sir James Craig once described as the “Greatest living Ulsterman.”
Their letter stated: “As you will be aware, William Massey left Limavady at the age of 14 and went onto become a pivotal figure not only in New Zealand’s history but world history. A success story which we should promote and celebrate today. He built himself up from nothing and attained the highest office in his adopted country. However, we feel that Limavady Borough Council does not promote Massey at all.”
They compared this lack of celebration to other parts of Northern Ireland where links with US Presidents and Prime Ministers of other countries are promoted in a “celebrated manner.”
Four suggestions were made, which were discussed during a recent meeting of Limavady Borough Council. The suggestions were that: “William Massey should have a permanent feature or exhibition based upon his life and time in the Roe Valley Arts and Cultural Centre and the Green Lane Museum.
“Limavady Borough Council should explore twinning or creating a link with Mangere, a suburb of Auckland City where Massey had his farm and got married.
“That the Council do more to promote Massey in the forums available i.e. Website and other literature produced.
“That the Council confirms that the ownership of the Irish Green Street Memorial rests with it. Clean the memorial, paint it and have the plaque polished and in general maintain the memorial in good order.”
Responding to the letter, UUP Councillor Edwin Stevenson asked the poignant question: “Are we that desperate that we are cleaning a plaque?”
Councillors debated the four points raised by the Massey Foundation, and suggestions were made about ways to enhance the Borough’s promotion of William F. Massey.
George Robinson of the DUP said: “One thing that grates the most is the one in Irish Green Street. It is an absolute disgrace for such a renowned man from Limavady. It is a disgrace that the monument is the way it is.”
SDLP Councillor Michael Coyle added: “While as a Nationalist I wouldn’t have as much of a link to it as my unionist colleagues, I think that if we cleaned up the memorial, we might think about handing that over to the Foundation. They would probably look after it a lot better.”
Regarding the ownership of the memorial, the council’s chief Executive Liam Flanagan said: “We weren’t even too sure ourselves who owns the plaque. I would take it that we own it.”
UUP Councillor Edwin Stevenson suggested setting up some for of bursary system between Limavady, or perhaps the University of Ulster, and the University of Auckland in New Zealand. He added, however, that “I’m not expecting the rate payers to pay for that.”
Aaron Callan, Secretary of the newly established William F. Massey Foundation, told the Sentinel: “From what I can gather of the response in council to our letter, we are happy with what has been positive engagement. The letter was intended to be a discussion point. The ball is now rolling.”
He added: “But we are going to keep the pressure up.”
Mr Callan also made the point that New Zealand was one of the fastest growing economies in the world, where a renewed interest in one of their greatest leaders is burgeoning. He drew comparisons with the way many areas seek to capitalise on the disposal income of American tourists exploring their Irish ancestry and the potential for Limavady to do likewise by utilising its links with William F. Massey, one of Limavady and Ulster’s greatest sons.