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An Ulster Log: Four legs are much better than two for painter Paul

By Eddie McIlwaine

Artist Paul Bell's favourite sitter has retired and he still hasn't found a replacement with quite the same enthusiasm for the job.

You see the subject Paul loved to paint best of all wasn't a two-legged human although she did have one or two human tendencies.

She was a cow called Halo. That's right - a black and white Holstein Friesian and Paul loved to meet up with her in a field so he could put her likeness on his canvas again and again.

Paul, a former graphic designer with Randox Laboratories, does portraits of people too.

Right now he is busy on a portrait of retired Ireland and Ulster rugby fly-half Paddy Wallace to which he will put the finishing touches before his testimonial dinner on December 18.

But his speciality is cows (and the occasional prize bull) with a donkey or a horse for variety.

"There's no subject better than a cow," he confided. "I can walk through a herd in a field and pick the one or two who will be willing to pose. I'm not joking. Cows have a natural curiosity, they seem to know what I want. They are just so nosey. Halo would have stood still for an hour while I took her photograph and measured her up.

"I know for sure she would have remained on her hooves forever while I did the actual painting on the spot. But that would have been unfair to the animal.

"I took the photos back to my studio in Ballymena and finished the canvas at my leisure."

Alas the average age of a cow is around 12 years and Halo no longer figures as a poser.

But Paul paints other cows, and horses and donkeys, to order for farmers and people who like pictures of animals. He paints them out of their ordinary environment - an Aberdeen Angus against a blue background, Ayrshire against green and a Friesian against red.

That's him posing for the camera in a field near Broughshane with another of his favourite subjects, a posing cow called Jenny.

Star Ceara in fine voice for musical feast of song

Opera star Ceara Grehan will be going on a European tour next Saturday - but it will be confined to the stage of the Glenmachan Church of God in Belfast.

For this is a musical tour of great songs with Festival Brass and conductor Alan Corry.

Ceara, from the city, is one of Ireland's leading theatrical singers and first trained at the Belfast School of Music and with top West End coach Mary Hammond.

Her prolific career has included many productions throughout the UK and Ireland, plus regular performances for the Fortwilliam Musical society, Lyric Opera Productions, and St Agnes Choral Society.

In June 2003, Ceara won the AIMS Award for the Best Female Singer for her part as Anna Leonowens in St Agnes' The King.

She performed at the Odyssey in Belfast for One Enchanted Evening, alongside Peter Corry, Brian Kennedy, Joanna Ampil (Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, Jesus Christ Superstar) and Jeff Leyton (Les Miserables).

Ceara has also performed at the Waterford Festival, Lyric Opera Productions with A Tribute to Oscar Hammerstein II at the National Concert Hall in Dublin, and Classics from Broadway.

She has performed Cosi Fan Tutti, Tosca, and Il Travatore with Opera Northern Ireland.

On next Sauturday's bill too will be an other sparkling performer soprano, Mairead Healy.

A real buzz down by the Boyne

All is sweetness and light down on the Boyne - Boyne Valley Honey is being provided for families everywhere by a company in Drogheda.

Actually, the Boyne Valley Company has been around for some 50 years.

But right now the sweet stuff in the squeezy jars is more popular than ever before. If King James had partaken of a spoonful before that epic struggle on that famous spot, he might have done a wee bit better.

Or perhaps not.

Tell you this - a couple of squeezes of Boyne honey makes a dish of porridge delicious at breakfast.

Come along and hear Santa sing

One of my earliest Christmas memories is of seeing Santa Claus popping out of a chimney in the toy department of a Woolworths store in Belfast, I was about six. Which prompts a question about old Father Christmas: Do the big stores still have him in residence? It has been suggested that today's children are too worldly wise to be interested in an old chap in a red cloak asking them what they want in their stocking. By the way John Mooney at the Dunadry Inn at Templepatrick has come up with a plan for a Santa Sunday on December 21. Now who will be playing Santa? I'm told it will be someone who is a favourite in the district. Before that  on Sunday December 14, there will be a carol singing lunch at the hotel and Santa could be there too.

Secret is out on best gospel hymn

My favourite gospel hymn is It Is No Secret (What God Can Do), so I'm duty bound to correct a presenter on the wireless who said it was written by Jim Reeves. It was, in fact, his friend Stuart Hamblen who was the composer.

I know this as preacher Billy Graham, who knew both, put me right the last time he was in Belfast about 25 years ago.

I mention it today because a digital version of late Jim's best tracks has just been issued by Steve Brink and his H&H Music and the Secret one of them.

Hamblem was inspired to give up drinking by Graham. John Wayne asked Stuart how he managed to give up the booze so easily. The reply was: "It is no secret - everything is possible with the Almighty."

Wayne retorted: "That's a cue for a song." And Hamblen wrote It Is No Secret over the next few days and presented it to Reeves.

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