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Paisley like Hitler? You couldn't be Fuhrer from the truth

Unfair comparison... columnist's controversial take on Big Man sparked Nazi row

By Eddie McIlwaine

My picture today is of Bill Connor who, as Cassandra in the Daily Mirror in the Sixties, was arguably the most famous newspaper columnist anywhere.

And I have to wonder if, as a younger royal, Prince Charles ever read Cassandra, whose silky style charmed and delighted readers – most of the time.

You see, both Bill Connor – first of all way back in the summer of 1966 – and then the Prince just a few weeks ago, shocked us all when they singled out well-known personalities and compared them to Adolf Hitler.

Connor in his Cassandra column declared that our very own Big Man Ian Paisley was "Adolf Schickelgruber in clerical clothes: Der Fuhrer in a Dog Collar."

He had heard Hitler addressing a crowd in Berlin 30 years before and after spending less than one hour listening to Paisley speaking to his supporters from the back of a lorry in a field at Carrickfergus, retreated to his Mirror office in London to write his chilling words for the next edition.

My picture is the cover of one of Connor's bestselling books on which it is proclaimed Cassandra is at his finest and funniest.

There was nothing funny about the column he wrote in that paper back in World Cup year 1966.

I don't propose to repeat any of that Cassandra column here. Even people who didn't care much for Ian Paisley in those days before the Troubles believed Connor had gone too far. Bill never returned to Northern Ireland. In fact, he died in 1967 at only 58, but not before I, as a young Mirror reporter, met him in London and tried to tell him he had gone too far about that day in Carrick. He was a star, I was unimportant to him; Bill wasn't listening.

Connor – who prompted Winston Churchill to say he was "dominated by malice" when another of his columns attacked the wartime Westminster Government – should have stuck to writing about the Antrim Coast Road which he loved and where Cassandra did no harm.

Paisley, who never took much notice of what journalists wrote about him anyway, shrugged Connor aside and went on to greater things and is now retired.

Which brings me to the prince who reminded me that he and Connor had something in common when he agreed publicly with a suggestion that the Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hitler were two of a kind.

Putin, who lost a brother in the Nazi siege of Leningrad, was quick to point out that 20 million Russians died in the Second World War. It's an understatement to say he was unhappy with our royal. Perhaps, in future, we will all be careful about comparisons we make.

There’s something fishy in this tall tail about Islandmagee mermaid

Islandmagee has always been a place overladen with folk legends and tales so in the summer of 1814 — exactly 200 years ago — it was no surprise that every hill and dale along the coastline was buzzing with the story of a beautiful mermaid being captured at Port Muck.

It all began with a letter in a local newspaper, the Belfast Chronicle, from one William McClelland in which he claimed to have been a member of a group of fishermen — aided and abetted by a large water dog — who caught the mermaid in their net and after calming her down, assured her they meant her no harm. They carried the fishy one up the road to a row boat they owned at Port Muck where they made her comfortable in a bath of salt water.

McClelland later claimed he wanted to show the mermaid off to the local people to prove that folksy characters like her really did exist.

And from all over Co Antrim and beyond, people flocked to Port Muck to see the mermaid whom he called Julie. But all they glimpsed in the boat was a shadowy figure which could have been one of McClelland's human girlfriends. He wasn't letting spectators get too close.

There are several versions of the Story of the Port Muck Mermaid going around to this day. One in a 1927 book called The History of Islandmagee by Dixon Donaldson dismisses the whole thing as a hoax by McClelland who was known to be a bit of a joker. But there are people in Islandmagee — especially around the Port Muck region — who aren't so sure.

What does intrigue me though is the story that keeps popping up about a different mermaid altogether — one who in a folksy story made her home of Rathlin and earned it the title of The Enchanted Isle. In fact, a poem was written about her and contained the lines: ‘A Mermaid rises from the deep/And sweetly tunes her magic shell.’

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