Belfast Telegraph

Treasures in an attic that began a lifelong passion

By Eddie McIlwaine

Retired journalist Dennis Kennedy's life changed the day he was invited into Willy Conor's attic and fell in love with art and artists. For Conor that time in February 1962 – when Dennis was aged 25 and was a reporter on the Belfast Telegraph – was arguably the best known painter in the province, if not in the whole of Ireland, specialising in the way he saw the working-class around him.

And the young Kennedy – in years ahead to become assistant editor of the Irish Times – was visiting him at his home in Salisbury Avenue, Belfast.

"The attic which Willy allowed me to enter was a small room with a single bed and a chair or two on which were scattered all manner of drawings and paintings. There were even some under the bed."

Dennis picked out two small ink and wash drawings dated 1908 and back downstairs Conor charged him a fiver for the pair.

What those drawings – a fiddler, (which I reproduce) on one and the other called Siesta – are worth today I've no idea. All I can tell you is that they launched Dennis as an art collector in his travels around the world as a writer.

And he has now produced a book called, appropriately, Willy Conor's Attic in which are featured around 200 paintings and drawings from a lot of countries.

"Great collectors have usually expert knowledge of the subject," Dennis is at pains to point out, "and lots of money to spend on their art.

"By those standards I'm not a collector and the paintings and prints in this book and around my walls are not a collection at all. The only factors they have in common are that I bought them or was given them and that they cost me very little."

Dennis bought a few other Conor paintings, including a crayon sketch of a donkey in 1962.

But after his career took him to America and Africa he returned to Belfast in 1968 to find that Willy Conor had died at 87.

So Willy Conor's Attic is a tribute to a great artist, never mind the reproductions and other pictures and drawings Dennis and his wife Katherine have picked up down nearly 50 years.

Conor's Attic, published by Ormeau Books, is Kennedy indulging himself privately in a hobby about which he is still passionate. However if you want to pick up a copy you can do so at No Alibis Book Store in Botanic Avenue.

Great Scott, and sad story of the star who shone briefly at Solitude

Not many people remember a goalkeeper called Tom Scott today, but John Gordon of Pond Park, Lisburn, researched this Cliftonville international star who won 13 Irish caps and died so young at only 34.

He is buried in Carnmoney Cemetery under a headstone erected by the Solitude club and Gordon and I mention him today because it was on this very date in 1908 that he passed away. Scott won his first Ireland cap as a 21-year-old but retired from football at the premature age of 29. He was a sickly man even at the height of his career.

A Belfast High School old boy, he gained his first footballing experience with Cliftonville Olympic before being promoted to the first team for the 1893/94 season and by the end of that campaign had twice been selected for Ireland. Over the next six years Scott was a virtual ever-present on the international stage, taking his cap total to 13.

Tom, always an amateur, won an Irish Cup medal and played four times in representative fixture for the Irish League. He moved to Partick Thistle in 1898 but didn't settle and went back to the Reds until the end of the 1902-03 season.

He succumbed to tuberculosis at his father's home in Belfast in 1908.

In my day... with Jill Crawford

Q. What was life like for you then?

A. Hectic! I moved to Portaferry eight years ago, got married, had two kids and started my own business. It’s been a busy time and lots of hard work but it's also the most fun I've ever had.

I think that it’s been a great time to live here — seeing great bars and restaurants open all over the country and the buzz that it has brought with it.

Q. What music were you listening to?

A. I've got a really eclectic taste in music. I've listened to everything from classic jazz to London Grammar and some Marbella Sessions in between!

Q. The style?

A. Last year, I left the business world behind to start Just Live A Little with my husband David. I was working in a very corporate environment so the style was as you'd expect — lots of suits. Now my style has changed to a much more relaxed feel —no more suits for me!

Q. What has changed?

A. The biggest change has been how much more interested people are in their food, where it comes from and who makes it. And technology... nobody had an iPhone 10 years ago, but now everyone has one — I'm surgically attached to mine!

Jill Crawford is co-founder and sales director of Just Live A Little Ltd. Go to: www.justlivealittle.co.uk

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