Rally greats turn out to launch Bertie Fisher book
I was seated between two of Ireland's greatest rally drivers. To my left Billy Coleman, to the right Kris Meeke and we were there to remember someone who ranked alongside them in the pantheon of Irish drivers as a new book chronicling the life and career of Bertie Fisher was unveiled.
Meeke had flown in from Mexico, Coleman had driven 250 miles from Cork and they were just two of nearly 700 people who crowded in to the Fisher Suite - yes, it's named after him - of the Armagh City Hotel for the most extraordinary book launch I have ever attended.
They came from as far afield as Canada and Australia to attend a £100-a-head dinner which preceded the publication of 'King Fisher, the story of a rally legend' by Fergus McAnallen.
Stretching to 330 pages and containing over 500 photos, this coffee table-style production has been three years in the making and has been in everyone's thoughts since Bertie, his son Mark and daughter Emma died in a helicopter tragedy in 2001.
Such is the affection and respect for this record-breaking driver, businessman and charity contributor that the dinner was sold out and saw his friends and rivals join the Fisher family, wife Gladys and son Roy, who survived the crash, along with brothers Ernie, Ivan and Kenny for an unforgettable night.
Hosted by Pamela Ballantine, it featured footage of the Fisher era, from his early Ford Escorts to his state-of-the-art Prodrive Subarus, but best of all it contained tributes and anecdotes from so many people.
Coleman, Austin MacHale, Cahal Curley, James Cullen, Vincent Bonner, Andrew Nesbitt, Niall McShea, his long-time friend and engineer Sydney Meeke, Dave Campion, who provided the important link between Fisher and the Prodrive organisation, his co-drivers, among them Austin Frazer, Gordon Noble and Rory Kennedy, and so many more.
They were all there to participate and to hear video tributes from World championship team bosses like Dave Richards and Malcolm Wilson. Even First Minister Arlene Foster recorded a message for the launch which was masterminded by his friend, sponsor and frequent business partner Kieran McAnallen.
From former billionaire Sean Quinn to MLAs Tom Elliott and Gordon Dunne, they were all sharing memories of a modest man who touched so many lives.
The £45 book is available at www.bertiefisher.com and proceeds from it and the dinner go to the Fisher Foundation and the Armagh Tigers Charitable Trust.