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Why it's always been an honour to meet up with my friend Ivan

An Ulster Log

By Eddie McIlwaine

Published 16/07/2016

Well-deserved: Ivan Cooper
Well-deserved: Ivan Cooper
Singer-songwriter Orianthi

Nobody deserved an honorary degree more than my old friend Ivan Cooper, who put himself on the line time and again in his native Londonderry, in the cause of peace at the height of the Troubles.

He and I, along with John Hume, used to share an early morning breakfast table in the old City Hotel to talk about the latest happenings in terrible times. We were meeting daily to discuss what had gone on out on the streets the night before.

Ivan(72) is a veteran of Bloody Sunday in the Derry he adored and fretted over. He was out there as a staunch civil rights campaigner on that awful day of violence. He was played in the film, Bloody Sunday, by James Nesbitt, Chancellor of the University of Ulster, who presented him with the honorary degree of Doctor of Law, in recognition of distinguished services to peace and reconciliation.

The ceremony took place in the Millennium Forum in Derry. John Hume would have been a more appropriate choice to make the presentation, if he had been well enough, but that's by the way.

Ivan didn't confine his good works to his native Derry. He travelled all over the province, including Belfast, to help people caught up in the web of political trouble and violence.

He is a man - a personality - for whom I have high regard as he struggles with poor health, looked after by his wife Frances, a former receptionist in the City Hotel.

I'd love to share another breakfast with him one of these days and I will. With Nobel Peace Prize winner Hume there too, of course. Ivan, who worships in Derry's St Peter's Parish Church, has dedicated his degree to the memory of Claude Wilton, a solicitor and former member of the old Ulster Senate who died in 2008. "A Presbyterian for whom I had great respect who stood on the front line with me many times," is how he sums him up.

Orianthi will be in good company in Belfast

Singer-songwriter Orianthi (31), from Australia, credited as being one of the 12 greatest female electric guitarists, will  be in Belfast in the autumn as a guest of Bad Company at  the SSE Arena.

This young lady - surname Panagaris - appeared with Michael Jackson in his ill-fated This is It concert series and has toured with Alice Cooper. Her debut single, which made her a favourite everywhere, was According to You and her follow-up was named Believe. She and Bad Company, featuring original members Paul Rodgers, Mick Ralphs and Simon Kirke, will be here on October 14 and tickets are now on sale.

Mystery of missing 'Magee tune

The late songwriter Frances Hall once wrote a ballad about the Cove Regatta which was first held in Islandmagee in 1924, the year she was born. Frances, who lived across the way in Larne, read about the regatta in a book by schoolteacher and historian Dixon Donaldson on the subject of mysterious 'Magee. She was captivated by his description of the event and put lyrics and melody together. But the script bearing the words and music have vanished just as the book is rediscovered and people are wondering what happened to them and the cups and medals that were prizes at the Cove.

One story is that the script on which Frances scribbled down her notes was put inside one of her collected grandfather clocks for safekeeping. And when her possessions were sold off after her death 12 years ago, the Cove Regatta Song went, too, never to be seen again.

The piece was never recorded, unlike Frances Hall's One Little Robin which was a huge hit in the British charts for the Thompson Twins Elaine and Derek Thompson of course. Derek today is the veteran charge nurse Charlie Fairhead in TV medical soap Casualty.

Molyneaux's gift to St Catherine's

Everything is happening at St Catherine's Parish Church at Aldergrove, the only place of worship on a military base in the UK.

After eight years as rector, the Rev William Orr is moving on to pastures new in Portadown, at St Mark's Church of Ireland.

The announcement comes just a few weeks after the final retirement of senior clergyman at St C's, Canon Samuel McComb, at 82.

William's institution at St Mark's in the Diocese of Armagh, will be on Thursday, September 15. He is also departing Gartree and St Jude's parishes where William has been in the pulpit during those same years.

And there's more - in his will just made public, former Ulster Unionist leader Lord Molyneaux left his old St Catherine's parish £50,000, much-needed money that will be used to help restore the church - which dates back to 1712 - to its former glory.

Lord Jim worshipped in St Catherine's from boyhood and at one time was the only male member of the choir.

A special chair in the choir box in which he sat for years remains as a dedication to the memory of a much-loved man.

Genius Sellers' Belfast return cheated by cruel twist of fate

Peter Sellers, the comedian and actor who has been compared to Charlie Chaplin, always meant to return to Belfast during the years of the Troubles, in spite of rumours to the contrary.

His one and only visit here was in 1971 when I was his guide, and introduced him to the 'Big Man' Ian Paisley, on the steps at Stormont.

In the summer of 1980, I took a phone call from Peter telling me he would be in London in July that year for a reunion with his old Goon Show mates Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe and intended to return here to talk to people in the street, and meet politicians. But Peter never made that second Belfast trip.

On July 24, the day before his Goon Show dinner, he collapsed with a massive heart attack in the Dorchester Hotel and died soon afterwards in the Middlesex Hospital at only 54.

His last film, which he was back in the UK to promote, was The Fiendish Plot of Dr Fu Manchu.

Some folk claimed that Sellers only came to Belfast that first time as a publicity stunt, but I know different. He was genuinely appalled by the violence and wanted to know more about the cause of the Troubles. I know that he was anxious to come back, only to be cheated by his premature passing, leaving Lynne Frederick, his fourth bride, as his widow.

How did quaint Tyrone village of Clabby get its unflattering name?

Forgive me you couple of hundred folk who live in a little place called Clabby.

I never knew a place of that name existed until I was on a drive down around Fivemiletown, not far from Tempo near the Tyrone border.

I love arriving in places with strange sounding names and discovered that Clabby is from the Irish Clabaigh which means a place of pock-marked land.

There's nothing pock-marked about Clabby's green and lush fields so perhaps someone who lives there will tell me how the hamlet got its name.

Old colleague Louis keeping perfect time after recent fall

My old journalistic colleague Louis Malcolm (79), once of the News Letter, is recovering from a fall and enjoying life again, tinkering with his clocks, timepieces of all shapes and sizes being his hobby.

If your grandfather in the corner won't start, Louis is your man. He used to have a valuable collection which is now in a museum. Louis, a former editor of the Lurgan Mail, spent 20 years on the morning News Letter, writing the much-read Roamer Column. He has a daughter and two sons. And four cats.

Belfast Telegraph

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