Belfast Telegraph

Wee man from Strabane: interviewee who left a reporter bewildered...now even his grandkids talk 90 to the dozen

By Anna Maguire

He was ‘the wee man from Strabane’ who became famous for his galloping gab.

George Cunningham shot to fame in the 1970s when he was interviewed about the shortage of jobs and housing for the people of his home town.

He passed away last year, but his five grandchildren have inherited his mile-a-minute delivery.

“The blood went on through to them,” George’s son, David (62), said. “When they get excited or they have a couple of beers, they chat ninety to the dozen. My father did everything fast. If he was dusting around the house, the dust would be flying. Very rarely would he have spoken slowly.”

In the 1970s — as the Troubles engulfed Northern Ireland — George shot to fame when a 27-second interview with bewildered UTV reporter Charles Witherspoon went viral.

George’s racing delivery eclipsed his honourable sentiments, and he was christened the fast talker from Strabane — becoming a regular face on chat shows across the UK and Ireland.

Two bids to get his name in the Guinness Book of World Records were unsuccessful by a matter of words — because, according to his son, David, “every word has to be legible”. The clip has now been voted Northern Ireland’s ‘Favourite Magical TV Moment’ by viewers during a programme to mark the end of analogue TV transmission.

But who was the man behind the famous clip?

George lived out his life in Strabane’s Melmount area until his death last year at the age of 90.

The professional gardener married his wife Nancy in 1949.

Nancy, who had grown up in an orphanage in Tipperary, moved to Strabane to work as a maid for a family in the town, where she met George.

David Cunningham said he always knew his father as the ‘fast talker of Strabane’.

“That was his wee delight. He would have been bouncing around on Tuesday night if he was here.

“He used to just get excited and speed on. He did a programme for Sky and they told him what they wanted him to do, but as soon as the camera went into action, my father went off. I had to scold him to slow down.”

George’s wife, Nancy, passed away in 1993. Two years later, George’s daughter, Maura, died of cancer.

The other ‘wee man from Strabane’, broadcaster and musician Hugo Duncan, was a lifelong friend of George.

He said: “There was an awful lot more to him than that clip.

“He thought Strabane was deprived of employment and felt strongly about that.

“He wrote to prime ministers, popes and the Queen. A lot of them replied, including (Nelson) Mandela.”

George’s second cousin, Mickey Cunningham, added: “George was a great man for one man. He believed in everything he said.”

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