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How my old pal Cyril swapped his camera for a trusty easel

By Eddie McIlwaine

In his heyday the late Cyril Caine never claimed to be Ireland's best photographer, but he was the most flamboyant and brought a certain style to the profession. Away from his cameras, there was another side to Cyril, a native of the Isle of Man and handsome with it; he was a talented artist and that is my reason for writing about him today.

A painting of the Sir Samuel Kelly lifeboat by Cyril is to be presented to RNLI volunteers in Courtmacsherry, Co Cork, who joined the Donaghadee crew of the Kelly in rescuing survivors from the shipwrecked Princess Victoria in 1953 and again in saving sailors from the Fastnet Yachting tragedy of 1979.

Alas, the Kelly, which ploughed stormy seas to save souls for 30 years, now sits forlornly on blocks in a Donaghadee car park, rotting away and in need of saving itself. A campaign has been launched by the Sir Samuel Kelly Project to have the famous old boat restored to its former glory.

Cyril, who worked with the Daily Mirror in Belfast throughout the years of the Troubles, had a thing about painting boats when he wasn't working as a lensman.

Cyril, who spent his early years in the RAF, and I were Mirror colleagues right from the day in 1969 when he breezed into the Belfast office, fresh from Manchester, to join veteran photographer Bert Eastwood. And with Stanley Matchett arriving later, they made for a formidable team.

Cyril was a mate, known in journalistic circles as The Commander, and he shrugged off a leg injury received in a Bogside riot which left him struggling with a limp.

That was the evening he and I were trapped in a pub when the rioters turned on the Press and we had to take refuge for several hours inside. There was one phone, which meant calls out by the dozen or so journalists had to be rationed. The joke afterwards was that it was the quality of the drink that the protest was really about, but it wasn't funny at the time. And there was nothing wrong with the booze, for the bar ran out of supplies.

Cyril was proud of one particular photograph out of the many he took. It was of Bernadette Devlin on a swing in a children's park the morning after she was elected as Westminster's youngest MP. That picture so aptly summed up the swings and roundabouts of politics.

Cyril died in 1997 at 60.

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