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Why I hope the Pope plays his golden record from Belfast

An Ulster Log

By Eddie McIlwaine

On this his 80th birthday this December, as he considers the possibility of crossing the border into Northern Ireland during his visit to the Republic of Ireland in 2018, Pope Francis should rummage in cupboards at the Vatican to discover that the Papacy already has a unique connection with this neck of the woods.

His Holiness will come across a gold disc that way back in 1979 was presented to Pope John Paul II by Belfast's Outlet Records.

You see, the Pope was the recipient of the gold disc for sales of an album of his speeches and addresses during his tour of the Republic of Ireland that September 37 years ago.

The disc was delivered to Pope John Paul II by the late head of the old Outlet company Billy McBurney who later received a note of thanks from the Vatican.

The Pope's album, masterminded by Outlet engineer the late Cel Fay who was once one of Phil Coulter's group The Gleemen, sold well on both sides of the border.

Billy McBurney had hand-picked a squad of sound recordists to follow Pope John Paul around Ireland after he landed at Dublin Airport, to tape his every word. They were there at Drogheda, Galway, Knock, Limerick and St Patrick's College in Maynooth and in Phoenix Park where 1.25m Irish folk - almost one third of the population - gathered to catch a glimpse of His Holiness and listen to his sermon.

All the recordings were rushed back to Belfast where Cel Fay produced the unique album in the little studio that was then based in the Outlet headquarters in Smithfield Square.

Outlet in its heyday had the late David McWilliams, gospel singers, choirs of all denominations and flute bands, pipe bands and traditional groups among its bestselling artists too.

The present Pope who is indeed 80 today was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Buenos Aires. He succeeded to the Papacy in the spring of 2013 when he became the Pontiff - the 266th. He took his papal name after St Francis of Assisi.

He was ordained a priest in 1969 and became Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998 and was created a cardinal in 2001 by Pope John Paul II.

Cara keeping sweets out of her stocking

Folksy Cara Dillon whose Christmas album Upon a Winter's Night is in the shops today, will be rationing her intake of plum pudding on the big day.

For Cara, a 41-year-old mother-of-three has Type 1 diabetes and has to watch what she eats.

"It's difficult to believe how much life has changed since I was diagnosed ," she says. "I think of myself as Cara Elizabeth 'Diabetes' Dillon nowadays. I'm unable to pick up a bar of chocolate or a banana without thinking about how it might affect my blood sugars, I see food as numbers, I have a special cupboard filled to the brim with all my medical supplies. But I know I'm a good example of how you can live a full, adventurous and uniquely demanding life with Type 1 diabetes."

Cara from Dungiven whose husband Sam Lakeman backs her on piano, has O Holy Night, The Wexford Carol and The Holly and the Ivy on her album.

It's not Strictly the end for Len

There's a tradition in the church that once a minister leaves or retires, he never returns to his old pulpit. It's a pity that same unofficial law doesn't apply to show business and a series like Strictly Come Dancing.

Len Goodman, chief judge on Strictly, who is retiring when the present series ends in a couple of weeks, has just announced that he will still be around next time when the programme returns.

"I'll be keeping an eye on things from my seat in the audience, he declares."

And no doubt coming up with some pithy comments as well.

What an embarrassment that would be to whoever takes over from him in the judging panel. Does dear old Len think he can't be done without?

I'm not fine and dandy with Trump

If you had to pick a bloom for President-elect Trump, what would be your choice? Mine would be the Dandylion - because he seems to be a bit of a dandy. I only bring the subject up because next January 29 is Carnation Day - the birthday of William McKinley, the 25th President of the United States, whose favourite flower was indeed the carnation.

The day was first celebrated in his memory in 1903, two years after McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist who went to the electric chair.

McKinley served as a Republican President from March 1897 and was the last President to have served in the American Civil War, in which he was a private in the Union Army. He led the nation to victory in the Spanish-American conflict of 1898. He was succeeded as President by Theodore Roosevelt, who mustn't be confused with the Second World War President, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

McKinley, had no Irish connection and I can't see too many folk wearing a carnation in their buttonhole in his memory on January 29.

Life, love, and Brian Kennedy going strong 20 years on...

I find it hard to believe that it's 20 years since Brian Kennedy released his A Better Man album which was in the charts for 12 months and turned him into a star, winning all kinds of awards.

But it is a fact and Brian is about to celebrate turning 50 by singing every track from the LP at a concert in the Ulster Hall next Wednesday, December 21.

"It will be an unforgettable night," he promises. Brian is first and foremost a live performer and songwriter with an international fan base.

He has just released a 32-track double CD called Essential Collection which includes a duet with Boy George.

In the Ulster Hall Brian will pay homage to his brother Bap who died too soon a few weeks ago.

Big Cat Diary host and safari expert would love a return visit to Belfast

I'm not surprised that naturalist Jonathan Scott, presenter of the Big Cat Diary and Safari on BBC TV, would dearly love to find the time to make a sentimental trip to Belfast.

Jonathan, who lives in Kenya with his wife Angela, fell in love with the city back in 1972, when he took an Hons Degree in Zoology at Queen's University. It was an association that gave him a thirst for the wide open plains and turned him into a major celebrity with early programmes filmed in Kenya, including Elephant Diary.

He's from Berkshire, where he grew up on a farm, and away from television, Jonathan travels everywhere to talk about the lions, the tigers and the elephants he encounters. It's time QUB had this academic and former student back to give one of his famous chats.

Why the bleak midwinter is giving me shivers every year

I hate to say it but I always anticipate something bad happening in the run up to December 25 and with good reason as I'm about to relate.

Way back on December 22, 1963, 128 passengers died when the cruise ship Lakonia caught fire off Madeira in the Atlantic. She was on a Christmas voyage around the Canary Islands with more than 646 British and Irish passengers and 376 crew on board. A fire broke out on the ship and two hours later, she was abandoned with some passengers trapped in their cabins while others escaped in lifeboats or jumped into the sea to be picked up by two nearby vessels that dashed to the scene.

I'll always remember the Lakonia because my colleague, the late Graham McKenzie, and I were flown to Gibraltar by the RAF to interview survivors.

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