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How fortune smiled on the 'unsinkable' Violet Jessop

An Ulster Log

By Eddie McIlwaine

Published 24/09/2016

Violet Jessop
Violet Jessop
On song: soprano Julia Clarke

More than 1,200 holiday passengers on the Red Star Line's Belgenland held their breath as the luxury liner left Philadelphia on a world cruise when they discovered that a stewardess on board in the summer of 1926 was Violet Jessop. For the Irish girl had survived two sinkings and other serious collisions at sea.

Violet's charmed life on the high seas began in September 1910 when she was a stewardess on the White Star Line's cruiser Olympic which was in collision with war ship HMS Hawke as they both left Southampton. She was uninjured and the Olympic, a sister ship of the Titanic, managed to return to port. Her most famous escape of all came in April 1912 when she was a survivor in a lifeboat from the Titanic after the doomed liner collided with an iceberg.

And four years later in 1916 Violet again escaped in a lifeboat when the Britannic, sister ship of Olympic and Titanic, was mined and sunk by the enemy off the Greek island of Kea. She was a nurse on the hospital ship and 30 soldiers died in the explosion.

After the war Violet resumed her work as a stewardess with the White Star Line, then moved to the Red Star Line with whom she sailed on two world cruises on the Belgenland without mishap. In 1950 Violet, who as a baby survived a serious case of tuberculosis, retired to Suffolk where she died in 1971 at the age of 84.

The remarkable story of The Unsinkable Violet Jessop as she was nicknamed, is told in a new book 100 Irish Stories of the Great War (Colourpoint £12.99) by journalist Steven Moore.

Soprano Julia to hit high notes for Robert

Soprano Julia Clarke (22) will be a guest artist next Saturday (7.30pm) at a tribute concert in the Ulster Hall in memory of the late Robert Wilson, for many years conductor of Donaghadee Male Voice Choir.

Julia, who was Sainsbury's Voice of the Year three times in a row, sung for the Queen during the Royal visit to Dublin and the Methodist College old girl toured with Aled Jones last year.

On an American tour she was a favourite at the Carnegie Hall where the audience gave her a standing ovation.

On the night, Donaghadee Male Voice Choir will be conducted by Ivan Black who was the organist alongside Robert Wilson during many seasons. The organist on this occasion will be Stephen Hamill and the compere will be Gene Fitzpatrick.

Gift has always stayed with me

It was on this date in 1905 that a short story that brought a tear to my eye and which I've remembered ever since was published, written by O. Henry, the pen name of William Henry Porter, an American author renowned for his wordplay, warmth and surprise endings.

It's called The Gift of the Magi and is all about a young married couple with little money setting about the task of buying one another a present.

She sells her long golden tresses which took years to grow to a hairdresser for $20 to buy him a chain for his precious gold pocket watch which he inherited from his grandfather.

But unknown to her he has sold the much-loved watch so he can buy her expensive combs and brushes which are useless now her hair is cropped.

The moral is that true love is more important in a relationship than expensive presents.

Why the title The Gift of the Magi?

The Magi are the Three Wise Men in the Bible who took presents to the baby Jesus and thereby started the tradition of giving gifts.

O. Henry was only 48 when he died in 1910, but his short stories will be read forever.

Louis brings his friends to book

Retired journalist Louis Malcolm (80) likes his books to be returned when he lends them out to friends.

So he has scrawled the message "This tome was stolen from Louis Malcolm" on the flyleaf of every one of them.

And now that inscription has paid off big time. Louis's friend Aidan McCoy, who lives in Lurgan, has just turned up on the doorstep with a biography of poet John Clare which he had forgotten was in his bookcase.

Honest to goodness Aidan remembered he had borrowed it from Louis 12 years ago and promptly took it back.

"I never thought I'd see that book again," admits Louis. "I'd forgotten who had it."

Clare (1793-1864) was the son of a farm labourer, who came to be known for his writings about the English countryside and much more besides. His biographer Jonathan Bates states in the book Louis has regained that Clare was "the greatest labouring-class poet that England ever produced".

One piece, First Love, begins: "I ne'er was struck before that hour, With love so sudden and so sweet, Her face it bloomed like a sweet flower, And stole my heart away complete."

Forgiveness can be so poetic thanks to great Irish toast

Did I upset anyone in the past week or so? Probably something I wrote got up some reader's nose.

So here's an Irish toast from an old book I've been leafing through as I beg forgiveness.

May the frost never afflict your spuds

May the outside leaves of your cabbage

Always be free of worms.

May the crows never pick your haystack

And may your donkey always be in foal.

And here is a little prayer for me and all Log fans:

May the roof above us never fall in,

And may we friends gathered below

Never fall out.

May you have warm words on a cold evening,

A full moon on a dark night

And a smooth road all the way to your door.

We'll meet again ... the Embassy Ballroom could be set to return

I hear a rumour that the lamented Embassy Ballroom where dancers once braved Hitler's bombers during the Blitz of 1941, could be rebuilt and reopened.

Trevor Jenkins and his Orchestra played the waltzes and the quicksteps, defying the mayhem in the streets outside. The doors were kept locked and no one was allowed outside because Belfast was a dangerous place. (Did no one ever think that the Embassy might take a direct hit?)

I'm a bit too young to remember the Embassy in its heyday during the Second World War and beyond until the old place went out of fashion and went dark. I'm told the tune they danced to on that final night of all in the late 50s was We'll Meet Again, a hit for Vera Lynn.

Belfast had several ballrooms in those days before and after the war like the Floral Hall (now a hay barn), the Fiesta, the Orchid and the Plaza which during the war was an American Army base.

Nude Connery offered double O heaven for arty students

A national newspaper is getting excited about actor Sean Connery, now 86, posing in the nude in the Fifities for art students in Edinburgh.

He was also a naked guest at the old Belfast College of Art around the same time. Those young artists had no idea they were putting a future film star on canvas. I wonder if there is a painting of Sean with no clothes on lanquishing in a local attic? His hobby was bodybuilding and he took part in a Mr Universe contest before his acting break.

I had a girlfriend in the art class with Sean. She became so infatuated with his magnificent muscletone that I dumped her. Especially after she refused to paint me with or without my clothes.

Belfast Telegraph

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