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An Ulster Log: Aah! Now you're talking, Caroline Flack

By Eddie McIlwaine

Strictly winner Caroline Flack, who will be a new host on the X Factor, sipped a celebration drink that's a bit different - a jug of gravy.

"I enjoy Bisto gravy as a drink," confesses Caroline (35), who made headlines after being romantically linked to One Direction's Harry Styles when he was just 17. "I love meat and potatoes with gravy on top, too."

Her one big regret is that she can't play the piano. "I had lessons, but gave up. I wish I could play now, to walk into a bar and conduct a singsong."

The very first Bisto gravy was in 1908. Invented by Messrs Roberts & Patterson, it was named "Bisto" because it "Browns, Seasons and Thickens in One go".

But here's a question: how many Log readers drink gravy just like Caroline?

Did a Titanic tale go down with tragic Lusitania?

Best-selling novelist Archibald McIlroy had no idea he was about to lose his life in one of the great mysteries of the deep when he stepped on board the doomed liner Lusitania in New York 100 years ago in the wartime summer of 1915.

The question that has never been properly answered is whether the Lusitania, a civilian vessel, was carrying arms and ammunition when she was attacked and sunk by a German submarine off the Irish coast at Kinsale with the loss of 1,198 souls?

On this very date a century ago, the wreckage of the Lusitania was being salvaged and people were desperately trying to make sense of what had happened. It has always been maintained that only civilians were on board and there's no doubt the horror attack hardened public opinion against Germany.

The sinking has been well-documented, but this year's 100th anniversary of the tragedy, in which many women and children died, brings to mind an issue, inconsequential in real terms, yet also thought-provoking in its own way.

McIlroy, a Ballyclare man, was one of the victims. The author of bestseller A Banker's Love Story (1903) was returning home from New York after a tour to publicise his novel.

And I have just discovered, after months of research in antiquarian book circles in America and here at home, that he was contemplating writing his next story around the loss of the Titanic, three years before in 1912. McIlroy had told a book club in Chicago the Titanic was his next assignment.

New York book collector Winnard Hope is convinced that the manuscript of a new McIlroy book was lost with its author when the Lusitania went down. No secondary copies were ever found, but could Archibald's suitcase have contained the script of that Titanic novel? We will never know the answer to this intriguing riddle.

McIlroy, a businessman with interests in banking and insurance, had offices in Antrim town. He began writing fiction for a hobby until his books like The Lint Was In The Bell and The Humour of Druid's Island started selling throughout the British Isles and beyond. A Banker's Love Story is still retained in libraries to this day and is widely read.

Why I once spent time behind bars in the Crum 

Newspaper colleagues were a wee bit taken aback when I revealed that once upon a time I had been in a cell in Crumlin Road Gaol. I hastened to explain it was on a visit to a friend who had got into trouble and was paying the price. Did him the world of good, those few days behind bars and he was a good citizen ever afterwards.

The Belfast jail, of course, is now a tourist attraction and last week hosted a BBC Music Day that was a great success. I maintain, though, that good music and song don't need a gimmick background. It will always sound good - the jail didn't make those classical sounds any sweeter.

If such a concert could have happened when the prison was teeming with inmates, the music would have helped to put them back on the straight and narrow.

I was at the jail - on the outside this time - on the morning in December 1961, when Robert McGladdery, the last man hanged there (for murdering Pearl Gamble), went to the gallows.

Hanged At Crumlin Road Gaol - the story of capital punishment in Belfast -is available in Belfast bookstores.

Ear today ... and still ear tomorrow

All I wanted at my local hospital was to have an ear syringed. One ear, mind you, not the both of them.

A simple enough procedure, I believed. So imagine the shock when I was advised that the earliest I can be seen by the specialist nurse is mid-August.

There must be a lot of folk out there in south Armagh with wax blocking their eardrums and hoping to get seen to soon.

I could go private to have this minor problem sorted out and get my full hearing restored. But at a price. A private procedure will cost me £130. I didn't bother to find out if that is for one ear or two.

In the meantime if you meet me in the street give me a shout.

Continuing my countdown of bores

A reader writes ...

Dear Eddie,

I'm relieved that in the list of boring people you drew up in the column you didn't include Nick Hewer. Mind you, I wouldn't have been surprised if you had added his name. Could any job be more boring than hosting Countdown? He earns his money the hard way sitting there day after day looking at contestants struggle to make words out of a jumble of letters. The only consolation is that he has the beautiful Rachel Riley on the show with him. Alas, Nick has a real bore to contend with in the name of Alan Sugar who could bore for England on The Apprentice.


Willie Armstrong (who never has a boring word to say about your Log).

Kennedy was one of the good guys

There's a saying that only the good die young and it was certainly true when Charles Kennedy passed away at only 55. He was indeed a good guy. I met him once and was impressed.

Too many so-called political friends looked down on him because of the drink problem he couldn't conquer and which shattered his career. What a pity this sincere politician - and there are few of them - didn't live to fulfil his potential.

Our Father in Heaven, dare I say it, should be looking after the good guys. Charles, whose funeral took place yesterday, was the second of that special species of my acquaintance to die too soon last week.

Dave, a good Samaritan, is missed too.

Belfast Telegraph


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