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Rugby legend Willie John McBride in party mood for his 70th

They flew in from all corners of Ireland and Britain to pay tribute to the great man. Of course, his hale and hearty laughter, that familiar explosion of mirth, warmed the room like some human heater.

But then, that was one of the reasons why they were there. For his 70th birthday celebrations, Willie John McBride was in his usual fine form. “I am like the Queen this year,” he joked. “My official birthday is June 6 but I was celebrating it on June 2, the most convenient date.”

If ever a man exuded the notion of someone larger than life it is WJ McBride, a rugby player of renown for Ballymena, Ireland and the British and Irish Lions. His popularity seems to go on quite unaffected by the changing currents of human behaviour and fate.

At the Culloden Hotel yesterday, 480 people had lunch with the great man. For all who attended, paying £55 each for their meal and entertainment, it was an event not to be missed.

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