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Why was SAS hero Paddy not honoured with Victoria Cross?

An Ulster Log

By Eddie McIlwaine

Published 15/10/2016

Robert Blair
Robert Blair "Paddy" Mayne
Ceara Grehan

As the door of the upper lounge of McGlade's Bar in Donegall Street, Belfast swung open, regulars, including yours truly, held their collective breath. For there, framed in the bar lights, was Robert Blair "Paddy" Mayne - once upon a time the most decorated soldier in the Army, but a man with a terrible reputation for causing mayhem.

Everybody present that evening in the summer of 1955 knew that this former hero of the SAS could cause a row in an empty field and was capable of challenging every man present to fight him on the spot - three or four at a time if they dared.

However, to the relief of most of the drinkers and to the disappointment of a few, Paddy Mayne was on his best behaviour that night in July, 61 years ago. He stood quietly at the bar, downed a couple of glasses while chatting to someone at his elbow and left soon afterwards.

And, just as he nodded farewell to the bar, I - a 19-year-old trainee reporter - dared to approach a fighting man for whom I had great respect and regard.

He paused in his step, answered a couple of hesitant questions and gave me what I've always called my first exclusive.

Sadly, within a few months this veteran of the Second World War, whom Hitler once ordered to be shot on sight, was dead. He was found in his car at Mill Street, Newtownards, that same year, on December 13.

Paddy was on his way home in his Riley roadster to Newtownards, where he lived, after a night out in Bangor. He was just 40 years old.

His name crops up today because Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Blair "Paddy" Mayne is mentioned in a new book SAS: Rogue Heroes, the authorised history of the crack wartime unit, from Crown Publishing, written by Ben Macintyre.

Mention of Mayne's name will revive speculation as to why this soldier, who won the DSO with three Bars, as well as France's Legion d'Honneur and the Croix de Guerre, didn't receive the Victoria Cross.

Questions were asked in the House of Commons a few years ago and could be raised again.

The supreme confidence that Mayne inspired as a leader stands out.

There is abundant evidence of the affection and respect in which he was held by his men, who called him a soldierly genius.

Paddy, in civvy street, was an Irish rugby international, an amateur boxing champion and a crack shot. He studied law at Queen's University. After the war, he worked as a solicitor.

Ceara in heavenly voice for church gig

Mezzo-soprano Ceara Grehan has performed in shows all over Ireland, but the lady who sings everything from oratorio to opera and beyond, always loves lining up on stage with Alan Corry and his Festival Brass.

And she will be doing so again tonight at Glenmachan Church to show just why she has been the star of around 20 musicals, including Hot Mikado, Carousel, The King and I and The Sound of Music, where she played Maria.

Ceara has been nominated twice for Best Female Singer in Ireland by the Irish Association of Musical Societies and won this title for the role of Mrs Anna in The King and I at the Opera House in Belfast.

On the bill, too, tonight will be Aaron Kavanagh and the Little Flower Girls' School Choir, with Wilfred Pyper as compere.

Music that's truly out of this world

Way back in 1957, when Perry Como had a hit with a song called Catch a Falling Star, he never dreamt that one day, far in the distance, the medium of sound would be used to interpret the movement of the stars as they traverse the sky.

Just what I'm talking about will be demonstrated dramatically at the Beaghmore Stone Circles Complex, not far from Cookstown in the Sperrins, this evening from 6.30pm by sound artist Robert Jarvis, using eight large speakers.

Apparently, stars passing in the sky trigger musical notes, whose qualities are informed by their brightness, size, temperature and distance from Earth.

"Thus creating a mesmerising sound map of the universe as viewed from our turning planet," explains Jarvis about this experiment, launched by Armagh Observatory.

He adds that it will give listeners an acoustic experience of the movement of the stars across the night sky.

More details are available from the observatory.

If the famous crooner Perry Como were alive today, I'm sure he would be mesmerised by what the stars are getting up to here in 2016.

Audrey relives radio's golden age

The McCooeys, the pioneering radio drama, belongs to the dim and distant past on the wireless in Northern Ireland. It was written by the late Joe Tomelty, who also played the grumpy old granddad.

It was first on the airwaves way back in 1949, so don't be surprised to learn that other cast members, like James Young (Derek the window cleaner), have passed on, too. But one favourite from The McCooeys survives - in the person of Audrey Bell (82), who played Bella McCoubrey "from the stoney mountain".

Audrey has been recalling how her career began in amateur drama with a young farmers' club before she graduated to occasional performances at the Group Theatre in Belfast and to a play alongside James Young, in which she was spotted by BBC producer Sam Hanna Bell.

Audrey appeared in a Sam Hanna Bell radio series called Country Profile and continued with a role in a series called The Loughsiders, before she graduated to The McCooeys.

"I would get a script on Monday, read it through on Thursday and rehearse it on Friday.

"Saturday was the big day - and we used to do it live," she recalls.

Flatley takes directorial role for Lord of Dance celebration

Dancing genius Michael Flatley, now 58, will be back in Belfast next year with a new modern version of the show he put on at Stormont in the open air 20 years ago.

But Michael won't be performing in Lord of the Dance - Dangerous Games at the Waterfront (May 2-5). Instead he will direct 40 young stars in this celebration of the creation of the Lord of the Dance phenomenon.

Dangerous Games features new staging, new costumes and choreography of a Flatley idea that became a hit at the 1994 Eurovision contest.

His proteges Morgan Comer and Cathal Keaney, whom Michael trained to take on the lead roles in Lord Of The Dance following his retirement, will be the stars along with new music by Gerard Fahy.

Flatley still holds a Guinness world record for an incredible 35 taps per second.

Town Hall exhibition looks back at Coleraine in the Victorian era

An exhibition about Victorian Coleraine goes on in the Town Hall until Saturday, October 29, exploring the years 1837-1901 when Queen Victoria was on the throne.

It recalls the names of some of the folk who lived there during her reign, including Hugh McNaught whom the Coleraine Chronicle in 1898 described as one of the best bad characters in a story about how he was charged with drunkenness in the local court.

Visitors to the exhibition will be able to explore the development of the town during the Victorian era which saw the building of Coleraine workhouse (1841), the Model School (1847), the courthouse (1852), the railway station (1855), the Academical Institution(1860) and even the Town Hall itself (1859).

Nuala’s new one-woman show was massive hit in the States

Comedienne Nuala McKeever is taking her one-woman drama In the Window to the Roe Valley Arts Centre in Limavady on Friday, October 21.

The entertainer and former Belfast Telegraph columnist explains that In the Window is the story of Margaret, a woman who decides to end it all only to be interrupted by an under-age intruder, a nosy neighbour and a policeman.

Nuala plays all the characters and she reveals that audiences in India and the United States loved Margaret and the other characters when she put on performances there.

In the spring, Nuala spoke of the heartache she experienced after the death of her partner Mike Moloney at the age of 59 in April 2013. She said: He was an inspirational man and gave people so much joy."

Belfast Telegraph

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