Three truly local heroes win popular vote as new Greenway bridges named
Three new bridges in east Belfast have been named in honour of the city's first female Lord Mayor, a pioneering headmaster who died in a tragic accident, and a youth sports coach who tried to turn Stephen Nolan into a footballer.
The names of Grace Bannister, David Hutchinson and Billy Shannon came out top in a public vote.
A cheeky bid to name one of the spans on the Connswater Community Greenway 'Bridgey McBridgeface' was rejected.
That suggestion echoed the recent internet campaign to christen a £200m British polar expedition ship Boaty McBoatface. The vessel was eventually named after wildlife broadcaster Sir David Attenborough.
Scores of people turned up at the Greenway yesterday for triple ceremonies at which the names of the bridges were unveiled by relatives of those honoured.
The first, at Dixon Park near Grand Parade, was named after Mrs Bannister, the city's first female first citizen, who lived only a short distance from the Greenway.
Her daughter Gail Sloan, who was her late mother's Lady Mayoress in 1975, performed the unveiling along with her children.
Mrs Sloan said: "I was delighted when the community voted to have a bridge named after my mother, who would have been thrilled with the honour, which means a lot to me and my family."
Mrs Sloan recalled how staff at Belfast City Hall were unsure how to deal with one of the first problems faced by her mother as Lord Mayor - what she should do with her handbag at official functions.
Mrs Sloan added: "They told her that none of her predecessors had ever had a handbag before."
Another bridge - linking Linen Gardens and Abetta Parade - was named in honour of Mr Hutchinson, the former principal of Elmgrove Primary School, who died three weeks after falling from a ladder at his home in 2011.
His widow Alison unveiled the plaque, and said the tribute was particularly appropriate because her husband's favourite song was Simon And Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water
Two of Mr Hutchinson's former pupils - Ellie and Morgan Moore - spoke about their fond memories of their "wonderful" headmaster, and the Elmgrove choir sang Rhythm Of Life from the musical Sweet Charity. Mr Hutchinson was closely involved with the Connswater project in his role at Elmgrove.
The school's most famous former pupil is Van Morrison, whose hit song Brown Eyed Girl made reference to the 'Hollow' near the school, and which has also been spruced up as part of the £40m Greenway initiative.
The third new Connswater bridge runs from Dixon Park to Dunraven Gardens and has been dedicated to Mr Shannon, who was a founding member of the Bloomfield Community Association in 1975.
Friend the Rev Mervyn Gibson paid an emotional tribute to Mr Shannon, describing him as a "true son and hero of east Belfast, who lived for his family and for his community".
He said: "He was particularly interested in football and ensured his Bloomfield Youth team always fielded the best team they could."
Mr Gibson said Mr Shannon, who died in 2004, was proud that one of his teams had tasted success at the Milk Cup in Coleraine 16 years earlier.
One of his young proteges was broadcaster Stephen Nolan, who once spoke on radio about what Billy Shannon meant to him, and said: "The most important thing in my life then (as a teenager) was my football team."
But Nolan admitted his dreams of making the grade as a goalkeeper were ruined "because I was too fat and I couldn't jump".