Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Back then: Author Aidan Campbell's £100k gift to charity

An electric tram in Cregagh village in 1910. Aidan Campbell writes books about such areas as Cregagh, Knock and Gilnahirk
An electric tram in Cregagh village in 1910. Aidan Campbell writes books about such areas as Cregagh, Knock and Gilnahirk

The historian they call the bard of east Belfast – Aidan Campbell – has fought back from a life-threatening illness to turn the past into a money-spinning way of helping a hospice and other charities.

Aidan has published no fewer than nine best-selling books which tap into our astonishing hunger for old photographs and stories about the way things used to be, back in the good old days.

And he ploughs the money straight back into good causes. He's already raised over £100,000 for the Marie Curie Hospice, which grew from the old Beaconsfield House at Knock.

And it was while he was a volunteer there that Aidan wrote his first book in 2005 – about the history of Beaconsfield, which was built in 1860 for a wealthy insurance man.

Before he knew it Aidan was writing books about the history of large swathes of east Belfast, even though as a Woodvale man he accepts he's something of a blow-in even after 25 years living on the other side of the Lagan.

Aidan has now sold upwards of 10,000 books about Knock, Cherryvalley, Gilnahirk, Castlereagh, Cregagh Stormont, Sydenham and Belmont.

He sells them through the Hillmount Garden Centre in the Castlereagh Hills and at the Marie Curie Hospice, which cared for Aidan's uncle 20 years ago.

Aidan is now working on two new ones about east Belfast in general.

"It's a bit like painting the Forth Bridge. You get to the end and it's time to go back to the beginning again. I have gathered up a lot of new stuff," says Aidan, who is going to widen his horizons to other parts of the city.

What is even more remarkable about Aidan is that the retired businessman has had to battle against the impact of a brain tumour which affected his balance, cognitive skills and memory.

"One woman even stopped me in the street to tell me she thought I had died," he said.

Aidan could, of course, have kept the profits from the books for himself, but, he says: "After the brain tumour I didn't think I was going to make it. I realised there was a lot more to life than making money. So I decided to do my wee bit for people who are worse off than me.

"And now I've widened it out to help other charities as well as Marie Curie. People are always coming up to me or sending me old photographs and recounting old stories." Aidan has become a veritable walking encyclopedia about east Belfast and he has given – wait for it – 300 talks to local history and church groups in the last eight years.

Someone really should write a book about Aidan.

Memories of Cheeky Chappie Charlie will never die

My story last week about the late Belfast Celtic and Glasgow Celtic legend, Charlie Tully, gave quite a few of you a kick.

I've been inundated with emails about the Cheeky Chappie from west Belfast.

One of them came from Brian Morrison, a Tully 'old boy' from his managerial stints at Bangor FC where, I revealed, Hollywood star Colin Farrell's father Eamon also used to play. Eamon, and several other Dubliners, used to travel north every Saturday and Brian says he would get the train from his home in Portadown and meet the southerners en route to the games.

"Charlie picked us up and drove us to Bangor," says Brian, who recalls how Charlie kept his passengers entertained with his colourful yarns. Brian adds: "I was good friends with Eamon and we used to love listening to Charlie's stories," he adds.

But Brian was unaware of the movie connections. "I didn't know Eamon's son was so famous."

Brian, who also played for his hometown club, says his time at Bangor under Tully was memorable. He says he will never forget how he heard that his old boss had died in 1971.

"I was walking down West Street when a Ports fan I knew shouted that Charlie had died that morning.

"I said there was no chance because Charlie was immortal."

It seems, his memory will never die...

In my day...

We quiz Tracey Hall on the time of her life

Q. What was your favourite decade?

A. The 1980s – in this decade I was at Victoria College and then went on to study languages at QUB, taught English in Spain, all whilst modelling part-time.

Q. What was life like back then?

A. Life was great. I loved school – great teachers, great camaraderie with a tight-knit group of girlfriends, weekends spent in Shane Park discos or The Squire's Inn, Ballygowan, or at house party.

Q. What were you listening too?

A. Madonna, Prince, Michael Jackson, Yazoo were my staple diet.

Q. And what was the style like?

A. I think I thought I was Madonna. I was forever customising outfits. My signature look was black eyeliner, blue lipstick and crimped hair! Scary!

Q. What has changed since then?

A. People talked more – there were no mobile phones, no texting, no Facebook, and no instant photos recording every aspect of a night out. Belfast had much less variety in terms of clubs, fashion retailers, coffee shops, hairdressers, make-up artists.

Q. What was better back then?

A. The pace of life seemed to be less hectic... boys had to ask you out face-to-face or call your house instead of texting!

  • Tracey Hall is boss at Style Academy

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting? customercare@belfasttelegraph.co.uk