NI community unites to paint Christmas images over dissident republican murals
An NI community has united to paint Christmas images over dissident republican murals calling for an end to internment, despite a stand off.
Lurgan resident Conor Thompson had organised a transformation of the murals in Kilwilkie last week but was met with a small group opposed to painting over the slogans.
Mr Thompson had spent months on the project aimed at setting up a Christmas grotto for local children and raising funds for mental health charity PIPS Upper Bann.
However despite a stand off, during which Mr Thompson said he was thwarted from painting over the murals and threatened, he said he was buoyed by the overwhelming support of the local community and decided to plough on ahead.
Over the weekend artists gathered to paint the murals, which said 'End Internment Now', and transform it with Nativity Scenes and seasonal greetings.
A shed was transformed in a Santa's Grotto and months of work to gather presents for the children swung into action.
Hundreds turned up on Sunday for the first phase of the event with the arrival of Santa in a Fire Appliance.
Despite a long queue of children and adults, there was a huge positive response from the Kilwilkie Community.
Mr Thompson is thrilled with the outcome.
He said he had looked at his own children and the children of the area and felt he could not begrudge them Santa's visit or fail to support the local charity PIPS Upper Bann.
"I have put months of hard work into this with the help and support of the overwhelming majority for this event in the area!
"The people want positive things. They want the community as one. They want things to look forward to. They want charities such as Pips Upper Bann that offer an amazing service to families of lost loved ones for help on mental health for advise on other issues. This charity is close to so many people's lives and the work that they do is outstanding but they cannot do it alone. We all have to play our part to help them
"I'm prepared to face anything that I have ahead of me 'should that put me in danger' to make this event happen for the entire community and to better community relations right across the board!
"I want this to lift the whole community together and enjoy at this time of year they way it should be. I thank each and everyone of you who have donated /supported and for standing by me as a whole community on this event.
"And as said before I don't care of backgrounds/politics/religion or anything. I want everyone here to enjoy this," he said.
After the event North Lurgan Community Association congratulated Conor and all involved in organising, setting up or helping out at Santa’s grotto on Sunday.
"We had the pleasure of speaking with Malachy Toman from PIPS who was delighted that the event was being held to raise much needed funds and more importantly raise awareness of an issue which has affected so many families within our community and the wider Upper Bann area.
"Despite the very small elements which tried to hinder the progress of such an important event which affects everyone regardless of colour, creed or political beliefs this event really showcased the true sense of community that exists within North Lurgan.
"May this be the first of many events that will bring our community together."
And in one day the total raised for PIPS Upper Bann at the Grotto was £993. Besides this, more funding has been pouring in to their Go Fund Me page.