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How ex-nanny had a reunion with boy from the war years

By Eddie McIlwaine

Published 17/09/2016

Margaret Boyd
Margaret Boyd
Maria Doyle Kennedy

Widow Margaret Boyd, who has just died at 95, never forgot the little boy to whom she was a nanny around 80 years ago when she was in her teens. So in her 80s Margaret, who always carried a picture of the two-year-old in her purse, set out to find the grown-up Ralph Brown for a belated reunion.

And her search was a joyful success when she traced Ralph, now 80, to Dungannon where he and his wife Norah run a country house called Grange Lodge.

The former nanny and the pensioner she used to wheel in his pram along the Antrim Road in Belfast managed to renew the relationship that began when she was employed as a live-in nanny to the baby Ralph by his parents who lived at Somerton Park in the city.

"Mother was the youngest of the family of eight of farmers David and Sarah Graham in Kilrea," says her daughter, Iris McVicker. "She left school at 14 and her first job was being a nanny to the little boy Brown in the years just before the outbreak of the Second World War.

"After a few years as a nanny, her father brought her home to Gortmacrane, Kilrea, when Belfast was being bombed during the Blitz.

"But she always talked about Ralph and as she got older my sister Dorothy and I helped her to track him down. We have actually been to stay in his guesthouse with her and meet his wife Norah and family."

Margaret wed Robbie Boyd when she was 24 and they had a happy marriage of more than 50 years that produced three children - Iris, Dorothy and Derek, eight grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren. Robbie died in 2002.

"I didn't know she still existed until this lovely lady turned up on our doorstep," recalls Ralph, the only child of policeman James Brown and his wife Dorothy.

Ralph has only vague recollections of his nanny back in those early years of the war, but he had memories of an air-raid shelter his parents helped build in Somerton Park and which was used at least once during the Blitz.

The Browns moved to Dungannon in 1946 and Ralph's dad opened a hardware shop.

"I worked in the woollen trade and became assistant manager in a mill," says Ralph.

He and Norah, whom he married in 1960, later opened their Grange Lodge guest house. They have four daughters, two grandchildren and a great-grandchild on the way.

Sci-fi star has Antrim gig, and that’s a fact

That lady of many talents Maria Doyle Kennedy will be shedding her role in Canadian sci-fi thriller series Orphan Black temporarily on Friday, September 23 - two days before her birthday - to sing on stage at the Old Courthouse in Antrim.

Maria, from Clontarf, is known as an actor and filmmaker, but singing has always been her first love, the lady who has dueted with John Prine and Paul Brady will tell you.

"I love to sing live - it means I am immediately sharing my music with my audience," she explains.

Maria, who has appeared at Glastonbury, features on the hit album The Lady Sings the Blues, with Tina Turner and Annie Lennox.

But you can catch her on Netflix in the latest series of Orphan Black, in which she plays Siobhan Sadler, the foster mother of two of the other characters, who know her as Mrs S. The series, all about human cloning, is by Temple Street Productions, who are presently shooting a fifth series that will be screened next year.

Maria, you may remember, was in the hit movie The Commitments. She is married to Kieran Kennedy and they have four children.

Candy store song not sweet music

It will be 60 years next month since an American songwriter called Bob Hilliard wrote the lyrics of a ballad called From the Candy Store on the Corner to the Chapel on the Hill which was a hit in 1956 for Tony Bennett and later an even bigger hit for our own Dickie Rock and the Miami Showband.

If Hilliard, who died in 1971, were still around today he wouldn't be pleased to hear that I detest his words and verses, simply because we don't have any candy stores in this country. We call them sweetie shops.

So every time I hear Dickie singing the ditty it jars on me that he is warbling on about something called a candy store.

Hilliard also wrote a ballad called Dear Hearts and Gentle People which was a hit for Fifties crooner Donald Peers.

Kristofferson no fan of the Sabbath

Kris Kristofferson got it so right about the Sabbath when he wrote Sunday Morning Coming Down way back in 1969.

Here's how Kris summed up the first day of the week in the chorus of his huge hit:

"On the Sunday morning sidewalks, wishin' Lord, that I was stoned

"Cause there's something in a Sunday, makes a body feel alone. "And there's nothin' short of dyin', half as lonesome as the sound.

"On the sleepin' city side walks, Sunday mornin' comin' down".

I agree with the songwriter that Sunday is the most boring day of the week. After morning church what is there to do?

Here's a little bit more of how Kris puts it all into verse:

"In the park I saw a daddy, with a laughing little girl who he was swingin'

"And I stopped beside a Sunday school and listened to the song that they were singin'

"Then I headed back for home and somewhere far away a lonely bell was ringin'

"And it echoed through the canyons like the disappearing dreams of yesterday".

But how do you feel about Sunday? Let me know.

New post is a mixed blessing for a football-loving cleric

Clergyman William Orr faces a bit of a dilemma as he moves to Portadown to take over as rector in St Mark's Parish Church. You see, William's sporting allegiance lies up the road in Lurgan where he has been chaplain at Mourneview Park to Glenavon FC whom he likes to watch in action.

Now he finds himself in a parish just around the corner from Shamrock Park, home of Portadown FC, traditional rivals of Glenavon in Irish League football. "Portadown supporters will be welcome at my services in St Mark's, that goes without saying," he states. And he is confident Glenavon fans will be there too on Sundays.

My football hero, the late Wilbur Cush, captained both Glenavon and Portadown in turn after he returned home from an illustrious career with Leeds United and Northern Ireland.

Nurse Charlie’s singing career was a casualty of his voice breaking

There's been a lot of fuss about Derek Thompson's 30th anniversary as Charlie the charge nurse in Casualty, which is all well and good.

But Derek, now 68, found a little bit of fame 55 years ago when he was just 13.

He and his twin sister, Elaine, known as The Thompson Twins, had a huge hit in the British charts in 1961 with a little song called One Little Robin. They went on to play theatres everywhere and even top the bill. I remember them at the Grand Opera House in their native Belfast one week with Gene Vincent whom they certainly put in the shade.

Their singing career inevitably didn't go on for too many years as Derek's voice broke. Elaine carried on with a successful solo career as she grew up. Where is she now? I hope she gets in touch.

Star’s chariot race skills had their roots in farm back home

Film star Stephen Boyd (real name Billy Millar) learned to drive a horse and cart on McCormack's farm up the road from his home near Glengormley.

His skill stood him in good stead when, as Messala in Biblical movie Ben-Hur, he raced a chariot against Charlton Heston.

The new 2016 production of Ben-Hur by Roma Downey is now on screens everywhere.

The teenage Boyd worked with farmers around east Antrim to earn a crust and the McCormack brothers, Sam and Joe, taught him to drive their horses way back in the 1950s.

Years later, the famous actor invited them to the Capitol Cinema on the Antrim Road, Belfast, to see the film. But Boyd never claimed he did all the driving... a double took over for the riskier bits.

Belfast Telegraph

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