Tribute to Shankill painter William Conor replaces ‘contentious’ mural

The statue of William Conor and the replica print of his art was unveiled at Northumberland Street on Saturday
The statue of William Conor and the replica print of his art was unveiled at Northumberland Street on Saturday

A ‘leap of faith’ has been taken on the Shankill Road with a “contentious” mural replaced by a tribute and statue of Belfast painter William Conor.

On Saturday the new wall with replicated prints of Conor’s work and the statue with a plaque saying ‘William Conor 1881-1968 The Peoples painter’ was unveiled by PUP councillor Billy Hutchinson at the Northumberland Street site.

It replaced a mural for the Belfast Protestant Boys which featured a UVF badge.

Paul Ferguson from the West Belfast Athletic & Cultural Society started off the ceremony by thanking the Shankill Protestant Boys band for “donating this wall where for over 20 years they had a mural”.

He said his organisation, along with other community groups and funders, had come together to “form the Conor’s corner committee to celebrate the local Shankill man”.

Chief executive of the Arts Council, Roisin McDonough, said: “It is an extraordinary pleasure and a great moment of pride that I am pleased to share with you. This is a remarkable transformation of an area that once held a contentious mural and is now housing an extraordinary statue of a remarkable painter who came from within this community and who I know you are all extraordinarily proud of for the right reasons.”

Also speaking at the unveiling, journalist and art critic Eamonn Mallie, who said he has been “collecting art for some 32 years”, said what was “unique about William Conor was how he captured the essence of the people of this city”.

“There is no living artist doing what William Conor did,” he added. “He was a chronicler, he captured the very mood, the very essence the quintessence of the soul of the people of this city.”

Mr Mallie said William Conor had “watched and observed ship workers going to work” and “captured the mood of the factories, the millies, the shawlies, that was his great strength and the great legacy he left for us”.

After unveiling the statue to Mr Conor, Mr Hutchinson said he understood the painter “had lived around the Shankill in different houses” but “died in 1968 in what I understand was poverty” in Belfast.

Mr Hutchinson added: “Conor showed that poverty existed in Belfast. The artistry he created was phenomenal as it showed it as it was at that time.”