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Late, great Bap and man who wrote unofficial anthem of Oz

An Ulster Log

By Eddie McIlwaine

I don't know if Bap Kennedy, that prolific singer-songwriter who died prematurely at 54 a few weeks ago, ever made it to Australia. But I can tell you that one of his favourite ballads was Waltzing Matilda, the unofficial national anthem of Oz.

It was Bap who enlightened me about the folk song's connection with Ulster one night years ago at one of his concerts.

And the story of Waltzing Matilda goes all the way back to the island of Boa, bang in the middle of Lower Lough Erne and reputed to be the largest isle actually inside Northern Ireland.

You see, the composer of the song was one Andrew Barton "Banjo" Paterson - and his grandfather Robert Barton was a native of Boa who emigrated to Australia some time in the 19th century.

And the Aussies are quite proud of the song's Ulster connection, I'm led to believe.

"Banjo" Paterson (1864-1941) was a poet and journalist, who wrote ballads and poems about Australian life.

Waltzing Matilda and The Man from Snowy River are his best-known songs. And I often enjoyed Bap singing them.

The Banjo Man, who lived and died in Sydney, wrote the Matilda lyrics in the summer of 1895 while on a trip to Queensland.

A book of his verses and songs was such a success that he became a national celebrity - especially when he covered the Boer War as a special correspondent for the Sydney Herald.

However, he was always proud of his Ulster connection.

In the First World War, Paterson spent time on the Western Front as a volunteer ambulance driver and was subsequently commissioned as an officer in the Australian Imperial Force, serving in the Middle East.

He spent some time in England, and it is understood that while there, Banjo made a trip over to Boa to find his roots.

I once suggested to Bap that we should make a pilgrimage to Boa, named after the Celtic Goddess Bodea, because of the connection to Banjo Patterson and his song.

But time ran out and, sadly, it never happened.

I'm the closest thing to crazy about Katie

Singer Katie Melua made a sentimental return to her native Georgia to record her new album, In Winter, with the Gori Women's Choir.

The girl who spent her formative years in Belfast, when her father came here to work, is now 32, but has never forgotten her time at Dominican College.

And I've never forgotten her first hit of all, The Closest Thing to Crazy - one of my all-time favourite love songs - which was part of her partnership with music maestro Mike Batt, who turned her into a household name.

In Winter, which is in shops now, reflects Katie's dual culture - born in Georgia, she moved with her parents and younger brother to Belfast aged eight to become a British citizen.

One track is the self-penned Plane Song, in which she recalls playing with her brother in old, rusty Soviet aircraft littered across various fields in Georgia.

How George Jones' sister helped launch his career

Popular radio disc jockey George Jones is writing his memoirs.

For nearly 40 years, he has broadcast on BBC Radio Ulster, Downtown, U105, Q-Radio and now Fever 40 out of Newtownards, and is putting the finishing touches to his life story under the title of You'll Never Get Anywhere Playing that Oul Ukulele.

"The title comes from words my late father George said to me when I was 11," explains George (72), married to Hilary and a grandfather of three. "Dad knew nothing about music and refused to buy me an instrument.

"It was my sister, Lally, who bought me the guitar and launched me on my career."

He is looking forward to the final tour of Do You Come Here Often, beginning at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast on December 28, 29 and 30.

It's no mystery where Scooby-Doo and the gang will end up next year

It isn't every day I can announce that a handsome Great Dane is coming to town in the spring to entertain audiences in a musical.

But this is no shaggy dog story, the Great Dane is Scooby-Doo, hero of an unforgettable cartoon series dating back to 1969 featuring his gang of four - Fred Jones, Daphne Blake, Velma Dinkley and Shaggy Rogers -whose task is solving supernatural mysteries.

Now Scooby and his pals are to be played by actors on stage in a musical, Scooby-Doo Live Musical Mysteries.

It will be performed at the SSE Arena in Belfast on Wednesday and Thursday, February 15 and 16, and tickets for this surprise Christmas gift are now on sale from Ticketmaster and the SSE box office.

Rare snapshots of Limavady offer a glimpse of area's past

An exhibition running at the Roe Valley Arts and Cultural Centre until January 14 provides a glimpse into bygone days in Limavady.

The aim of the Nelson McGonagle Collection, featuring a lifetime of local photographs, is to provide an insight into the folk who lived in the area once upon a time.

Highlights of the display include almost forgotten sights such as horse-drawn milk vans, tin smiths, turf cutters and potato gatherers, alongside historic sports teams and iconic views of the town.

The centre is open every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday from 9.30am-5pm and from 9.30am-9.30pm every Thursday and Friday.

Calling all retiring CoI clergy

Along with tigers and elephants and red squirrels, I'm told that retired Church of Ireland ministers are an endangered species.

I only become acquainted with this alarming news because I'm aware of a little church that is searching - so far in vain - for a rector, part-time or otherwise, to take over its pulpit. This is a small parish - I can't name it in the meantime - and a retired preacher man who is still keen to serve would suit them admirably.

Only the vestry has been informed there are no retirees around.

I simply don't take this information seriously. Sure, Portstewart is said to have so many retired clergy of all denominations that they are falling off the jetty.

Seriously though, if the prayers of the parish I'm talking about aren't answered soon, this picturesque church, which has a fascinating history, dating back to the Second World War, could be faced with occasional services only and eventual closure.

If you are a clergyman of the CoI kind who is about to retire, but who would still like to step into a pulpit on the Sabbath, get in touch.

Opera House celebrates landmark

Here in the middle of the pantomime season, let me tell you that December 23 is the anniversary of the first performance of all in the Grand Opera House, Belfast, back in 1895.

And it was a panto called Blue Beard to which theatregoers were treated.

Don't ask me about the plot, or the cast, or if the theatre was packed out for the run of a Christmas show with such a grim title.

All I know is that, before that first curtain of all went up that evening, the audience was introduced to archiect Frank Matcham and proprietor Joseph Warden.

The Grand Opera House has been threatening to resurrect the old script and stage a re-run of Blue Beard, but so far the management haven't dared.

As well as pantomime, that first season included burlesque acts, musical comedies, farces and melodramas. There was also a market for classical opera and drama, with regular performances of Shakespeare.

The theatre flourished and continues to do so today, offering escapism to the worlds of comedy, drama and opera.

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