Removal of Belfast mural honouring John Peel sparks ire

Lyrics from Undertones hit Teenage Kicks painted over for public improvement scheme

 BBC Radio DJ John Peel with his OBE in 1998. He died in October 2004 at age 65.  Photograph: PA

BBC Radio DJ John Peel with his OBE in 1998. He died in October 2004 at age 65. Photograph: PA


There has been a community backlash after a Belfast mural paying tribute to late British DJ John Peel was removed today.

Lyrics from The Undertones’ debut single Teenage Kicks - “Teenage dreams, so hard to beat” - were spray-painted under a motorway flyover after the Radio 1 star’s death nine years ago.

The non-sectarian mural has now been repainted as part of a £300,000 (€351,000) public-realm improvement scheme, prompting a storm of protest on social media websites - with some people questioning why other murals depicting gunmen have not also been removed.

The cult classic Teenage Kicks became a hit in 1978 after John Peel played it twice in a row on his popular show. He later described the song as his favourite, and requested the lyrics be inscribed onto his headstone.

Undertones bass player Michael Bradley was among those who took to Twitter to vent their frustration.

He said: “So the John Peel graffiti removed in Belfast. Undertones now going to paint over the DRD [Department of Social Development] building. Call the Outcasts!”

Terri Hooley, the man behind the recording of Teenage Kicks and whose story was the subject of the successful film Good Vibrations, said he was bewildered by the decision.

“I am surprised, shocked and very sad about it,” he said. “It just seems to have been an easy target — all the murals for paramilitaries and violence have been left up - I don’t understand why they took this one down. It was there for nine years and no one graffitied over it — that is unusual in Belfast.

“A lot of people considered Teenage Kicks to be the national anthem of Northern Ireland.”

The mural was painted under the M3 flyover at Bridge End in east Belfast close to a sectarian interface where rival gangs of Catholics and Protestants youths have clashed in recent times.

‘Cultural vandalism’

Human rights campaigner Patrick Corrigan described the removal as “cultural vandalism” on Twitter.

“They’ve killed #teenagedreams,” he said.

An east Belfast Protestant who called himself RudyardKipling7 also posted: “Of all the murals in Belfast the #DSD choose to remove the Teenage Dreams one? Buffoons.”

The DSD, which was responsible for removing the graffiti, said it would consider funding a new mural painted by children from the local area.

A spokeswoman said: “We do not remove graffiti as a standalone issue, however, we will always remove graffiti, after consultation, as part of any scheme if it falls within a scheme area.

“Community representatives from the area have made initial contact with the department to develop a proposal to bring together teenagers from the Short Strand and Newtownards Road area to design alternative community artwork in this location.

“The department has funded similar schemes in other locations and does not foresee any issue with an agreed new community mural, subject to consultation with DRD Roads Service, who own the wall.”

East Belfast MLA Chris Lyttle from the cross community Alliance Party said people were frustrated by the situation.

“There is a certainly a question being asked as to why this popular, non-divisive mural was painted over and more contentious ones have been left as they are.

“I have contacted DSD with a view to getting what had become an iconic image for the residents of east Belfast restored as soon as possible and I hope that will be the case,” he said.