Belfast Telegraph

Eisenhower, Churchill, Carson ... now Van Morrison gets keys to Belfast

BY JOANNE SWEENEY

Van Morrison has become a member of an eclectic group of men and women.

Belfast's latest recipient of the Freedom of the City last night joined the ranks of two Second World War leaders and an Ulster political luminary.

The singer is now on an impressive list including Sir Edward Carson, General Dwight D Eisenhower and Sir Winston Churchill, by becoming the 79th honorary burgess of Belfast city.

He is the first singer and recording star to be honoured among a raft of leading figures from commerce, industry and the arts.

Dame Mary Peters became the first sports person to be honoured in May this year.

Lord Mayor Mairtin O Muilleoir presented a specially-designed leather bound scroll and a large key on a plinth to Van the Man, just before his celebration concert at the Waterfront Hall.

He was joined on stage by Alderman Gavin Robinson of the DUP, who first suggested the council honour for the 68-year-old singer and musician from east Belfast. The scroll resembled a recording award to represent Mr Morrison's stellar career, which has produced seminal albums like Astral Weeks and Moondance.

While the Freedom of the City concert was a sought-after ticket event, it has not been without controversy. It faced public criticism over the allocation of tickets to the lucky few, along with the revelation that Van's band was being paid £35,000 for playing at a concert which was free to city ratepayers on a lottery basis.

However, the crowd was in forgiving mood, determined to enjoy classic hits such as Brown Eyed Girl, Gloria and Days Like This.

Van Morrison began as the lead singer in R&B band Them in the 1950s, when he lived with his family at Hyndford Street, off the Beersbridge Road.

The accolade has been bestowed on several members of the Royal Family – Prince Albert, the Duke of York was the 31st recipient on June 16, 1924.

Belfast's shipbuilding was recognised when William James Pirrie, chairman of Harland and Wolff, was the first person to be honoured on January 1, 1898.

The following year it was the turn of Thomas Henry Ismay, founder of the White Star Line, which owned the Titanic.

The Royal Navy, Northern Ireland Fire Brigade, Ulster Defence Regiment and Royal Ulster Constabulary are other previous recipients.

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