Pieced together - JFK Memorial Mosaic

As Birmingham gears up ready to celebrate St Patrick's Day with it's annual parade the route will see a new addition with the installation of the reconstructed JFK memorial on the corner of Floodgate Street and Digbeth High Street. 

The artwork was created following the Irish community's commissioning of Kenneth Budd to create an artwork following the President's assassination in 1963.  The community raised £5,000 of donations and the artwork was installed in St Chad's Circus near to the Roman Catholic St Chad's Cathedral.  It remained there until the redevelopment of St Chad's Circus when it was put in storage in 2007 following it's dismantling to allow the surface level road junction to be created.

Former councillor Martin Mullanney has provided a record of the original memorial and it's demise and rebirth.  The only parts that were salvaged in the dismantling in 2007 were the face of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King, five faces from the crowd scene and the two green quartzite stone panels either end of the mosaic.  It was agreed that it was easier and more cost effective to only salvage these parts and use the original drawings to make an exact replica of the mosaic.
The re-erection of the memorial has been funded by Ballymore, the property developers behind the Snow Hill office development that was created by the new road layout at St Chad's Circus.

  • A 12metre long by 3metre high mosaic designed by Kenneth Budd (1925 – 1995) – I’ll provide further details on this mosaic below.
  • Two 2.55metre wide by 3metre high panels at either end of the Kenneth Budd mosaic. The panels were made of green quartzite stone. The panel at the left side of the mosaic (as seen if facing the mosaic) said “In tribute to John F Kennedy, President of the United States 1960-3”. The panel at the other end of the mosaic said "There are no white or coloured signs on the graveyards of battle". This quote was chosen by Kenneth Budd from memory and according to his notes subsequently could never find evidence of the actual quote. The actual quote is “there are no white or colored signs on the foxholes or graveyards of battle.” – so he was pretty close. The quote reflected the central theme of the mosaic of Kennedy’s attempt to integrate the black and white communities in the USA.
  • In front of the mosaic, was a still water feature which stretched the width of the mosaic. The water feature represented the Atlantic Ocean. The either end of the water feature was a small rockery which represented America and the British Isles.


The mural is part of a rich history of mosiacs across the city in the 1960s and 1970s which city chiefs used to brighten up the concrete landscape and particularly the pedestrian underpasses.  Kenneth Budd completed five giant morals across the city at Horsefair, St Chad's,  Snow Hill, the Bull Ring and Old Square.  Horsefair remains intact after the regeneration of Birmingham but the reconstructed mosaic in Digbeth returns part of the rich heritage of Birmingham for visitor and locals alike. 

John F Kennedy was and remains for Ireland and the Irish a very significant figure encapsulating the essential ingredients of the “American dream” whilst taking on and standing up to prejudice and discrimination. As the first person with a direct link to Ireland to enter the Whitehouse his light still shines brightly almost fifty years after his tragic assassination in Dallas. His statuette may no longer adorn mantle’s up and down the country but his place in the hearts of Irish people everywhere is assured.http://www.irishinbirmingham.com/blog_post.php?p=598

The reconstruction of the memorial follows earlier plans from 2003, "Birmingham's Irish Quarter gets new look", which was to see the memorial relocated from Snow Hill to a new development in Digbeth near to the River Rea.  The collapse of the proposed development saw the fate of the former memorial to be a series of pieces placed under benches in Digbeth, http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/local-news/jfk-mural-will-not-stay-together-62706

Thankfully retaining the memorial and the work of Kenneth Budd's son has restored the memorial to the Irish community who helped pay for it and restored an important part of Birmingham's heritage.  Kenneth Budd died in 1995 and his son faithfully recreated the work using his father'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!”

Pictures of the memorial taken on 2 March 2013 are shown below:

The parade on Sunday will be one of the UK's biggest parades and marks the culmination of a St Patrick's Day festival which started on 9 March 2013 celebrating Irish Heritage and Culture in Birmingham and the West Midlands, http://www.stpatricksbirmingham.com.  The parade was started by members of the Irish community celebrating their heritage and returned to Digbeth in 1996 where it has remained since.  Last year's parade attracted record 85,000 people, http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/whats-on/things-to-do/st-patricks-day-birmingham-your-1736394

The parade can trace it's roots back as far as 1869 when the first St Patrick's Day event was held in Birmingham's Town Hall; organised by the church the event was to try and discourage Irish congregations from fenianism, http://digbeth.org/2010/08/august-irish-heritage-james-morans-irish-birmingham-a-history/.  Indeed the Irish community can trace their history in Birmingham to the 1600s with various waves of immigration raising the population of people born in Ireland to an estimated over 70,000 in the 1990s.


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