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Back Then: Mountain man's memories of beautiful Slemish back on shelves

Retired journalist Dennis and his uphill struggles to ascend a magical throne

A-top Slemish on St Patrick’s Wishing Chair
A-top Slemish on St Patrick’s Wishing Chair

By Eddie McIlwaine

I never knew there was a St Patrick's Wishing Chair on the summit of Slemish. And then I picked up a copy of retired journalist Dennis Kennedy's book called, indeed, Climbing Slemish and there on the cover, reproduced here, was a picture this one-time deputy editor of the Irish Times took back in 1956 of two friends perched on this slab of rock gazing out over the patchwork of fields down below.Presumably just after making a wish.

The mountain slopes on which the young Patrick was a slave have been climbed by Dennis at least 10 times and Slemish is dear to his heart after he spent summer holidays in its shadow on the farm of Robert McMaster as a boy. "I couldn't wait to get a wee bit older and stronger so I could climb to the summit," he recalled.

Personally, I've only been on the summit once. I might tackle the climb again if only to take a seat on that magical chair. There are a few things I could wish for, but I digress. According to my good friend Kennedy, you can read Climbing Slemish either as a novel or a memoir of four families with whom he has links - the Campbells of Lurgan; the Cuthberts, originally from the Oldpark in Belfast; the Kennedys of Ballymena, and, of course, the McMasters of Slemish.

It first appeared on the bookshelves from a Canadian company called Trafford Publishing in 2006 and sold well as an Ulster memoir.

Now Climbing Slemish is out there again by popular request, this time from Belfast's Ormeau Books, with some paragraphs rewritten and minor errors corrected.

It is a portrait of a small and often misunderstood minority - the deeply religious Protestant working class in rural and urban Ulster.

"Slemish is a motif which links family members over generations," emphasised Dennis, a former European Commission representative for Northern Ireland. "It is also a metaphor for human life and the challenges it presents."

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I can tell you there is humour and tragedy in the pages, too. You can tell that Dennis Kennedy, who used to be a staffer in the Belfast Telegraph, is passionate about Slemish and the memories it brings to mind.

Climbing Slemish is available in Cameron's of Ballymena and at No Alibis in Belfast.

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