A LASTING tribute was unveiled in Belfast yesterday to a Church of Ireland missionary deemed a “great champion” for the rights of deaf people.
Francis Maginn, who spent the latter part of his career in the city until his death in 1918, was honoured with an Ulster History Circle blue plaque commemorating the pioneer’s former workplace.
The unveiling was attended by representatives of charities supporting deaf people at Wilton House, the headquarters for RNID – Action on Hearing Loss (Northern Ireland).
Fittingly, the ceremony at the College Square North premises took place on the 150th anniversary of Mr Maginn’s birth in Co Cork.
Mr Maginn – who lost his hearing as a child after contracting scarlet fever – worked to enhance the quality of life for people who were deaf in the British Isles.
He launched the British Deaf Association which championed the use of sign language in deaf schools, and later led the Ulster Institute for the Deaf, Dumb and Blind.
Paying tribute to Mr Maginn, RNID director Brian Symington described the event as a “historic day for the deaf community in Northern Ireland”.
He said: “Francis Maginn was a great champion of the rights of people who are deaf, and he showed great resilience and courage to fight for their rights. He lived and breathed his indomitable belief in the fundamental right of deaf people to have equality, education, employment and a rich quality of life.”
Majella McAteer, from the British Deaf Association, hailed Mr Maginn as an “inspiration”.
She said: “To understand our own society, we need to be educated in our own local history.
“Today, we celebrate the life and achievements of Francis Maginn who played a crucial role in developing key aspects of the deaf community, such as education and work.
“As deaf people, we welcome this opportunity to share with others how important this person was in our history. As a deaf man himself, he is an inspiration to many of us, even after 150 years.”
Ulster History Circle plaques commemorate men and women, born in or associated with the province, who have made a significant contribution to its history and development.
Wesley McCann, from the organisation, said blue plaques have been unveiled across the country to honour local heroes “whose contribution to the fields of science, politics, the arts and academia have shaped our present”.