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So where was the Churchill portrait hiding all these years?

By Eddie McIlwaine

Denise O'Neill of the Londonderry Arms has been explaining how a famous portrait of Sir Winston Churchill was restored to its place above the fireplace in the lounge of the Carnlough hotel, after it was missing for several years.

The name of the lounge which the picture once again adorns? It's the Churchill Suite, for the wartime Prime Minister who died in 1965 once owned the Arms.

Churchill gained possession of the hotel, built in 1848 by the Marchioness of Londonderry as a coaching inn, when her grandson and heir Herbert Vane Tempest was killed in a train accident in 1921. Winston, Tempest's second cousin and the next in line, planned to turn the historic establishment into a summer residence, but changed his mind and sold it for £975 to a Mary Anne Rafferty.

After other changes of ownership the Arms was bought in 1947 by Frank O'Neill Sr and his wife Moira, who died just a few weeks ago.

Which brings me to the intriguing tale of the painting of Churchill, a copy of which, signed by the great man himself, is back in residence at the Arms.

The portrait was commissioned by Winston's wife Clementine in 1943 from Hungarian artist Professor Arthur Pan and after she had several prints made and signed by her husband she sold them off to raise funds for the war effort in Russia.

So how did one of the prints bearing the Winston painting end up in the Londonderry Arms?

Apparently the late Frank O'Neill Jr spotted the print at an auction in London and snapped it up .

"It hung above the fireplace in the lounge for a long time and then it vanished," recalls Denise. "We thought it might have been stolen, but the answer to the mystery was quite simple. The painting had been stored away by builders who were carrying out renovation work. It was lost for a few years and then we discovered it in a back room."

That painting which apart from the Churchill signature also bears a quote by the old warlord is now back the wall of the lounge that carries his name. The original painting by Pan hangs in the American Embassy in London.

Shania’s Ulster roots could impress her

Returning to Belfast for the first time in 22 years, sparkling Shania Twain will take time out to research her possible Ulster connection.

The lady, just recently recovered from the Lyme disease which caused her to lose her singing voice for 15 years, will be here on September 29, 2018, at the SSE Arena.

I know her comeback date in our city is a year away, but Shania is well worth waiting for.

“I could speak during my illness, but I couldn’t sing or shout or even call my dog, Tim,” she explains.

Last time she was in town at a Jim Aiken promotion, Shania was told she just might have relations in Co Tyrone but a hectic tour schedule didn’t leave her time to investigate.

Apart from her golden voice, now thankfully restored, she has been named as the Sexiest Vegetarian Alive and among the 50 most beautiful women in the world.

Shania hails from Ontario where her mother Sharon and stepfather Jerry were killed in a car crash in 1987.

Her big hit, of course, was ‘Man! I Feel Like a Woman’.

Annie would be sure-fire hit show

One night at the Grand Opera House in Belfast years ago the late Howard Keel told me he would have loved to have met Annie Oakley.

He was in the 1950 movie Annie Get Your Gun which was a fictionalised version of her life story with Betty Hutton in the title role. Keel was fascinated by the real Annie (1860-1926) who was a sharpshooter in the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show.

Her real name was Phoebe Ann Mosey and she could split a playing card, edge-on, at 90 feet with a shot from her .22 rifle. No wonder fans called her The Little Sure Shot of the West.

I’ve just been listening to a CD of Annie Get Your Gun with Irving Berlin songs like There’s No Business Like Showbusiness and You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun.

That’s why I’m reminiscing about that time chatting to Mr Keel. Wouldn’t it be lovely if one of our musical societies presented a stage version of the Annie show at the Grand Opera House in his memory?

When this musical from a book by Herbert Fields and his sister Dorothy ran first on Broadway in 1946 it managed 1,147 performances, so it was a success before moving to London and the West End.

There’s something fishy about this tale

Do you believe in mermaids? Well according to the late Sam Henry, a researcher and author, they occupy parts of Rathlin Island. Sam once wrote a short story called The Mermaid of Dunluce in which he claimed that every mermaid is a fallen angel.

Sam, a man of many talents who died in 1952, spent tireless days with his camera searching for these half-humans on Rathlin and insisted that he once met an old lady called Kathy Glass who was in reality a mermaid on Rathlin. She was combing her hair in the rocks by the bay when they came face to face, but she refused to have her picture taken.

In his yarn written in 1942 Sam claimed that Kathy told him how she had fallen in love with an islander and promised to marry him if he removed her tail with gentle care and hid it where it would never be found.

She replaced the offending tail with two shapely legs and they lived happily as man and wife for several years until an inquisitive neighbour chanced upon the tail in the barn and the truth was out.

Kathy slipped down to the water’s edge, pulled on her tail and swam away, never to be seen again.

Pub’s beer-swilling colony of bats put drinkers in a flap

There used to be a colony of bats dwelling in the rafters of a pub in Antrim, and they descended every night at closing time on the heads of drinkers, who were scared rigid and forgot about last orders as they made for the door.

I only mention that colony today because a fierce-looking bat gave me a fright the other evening at dusk as it brushed my hair on the way to its lair.

I’ve no idea when that colony finally departed that Antrim bar, but after a year or two the punters got used to them and the creatures became part of the scene.

There was even a suggestion that they enjoyed a sip of beer now and then.

You know how a dog cocks its head as if to better understand what a human is saying?

Well, bats do the same thing, only they do it with one of their wings to fine-tune the location of prey.

No matter how intelligent they may be, I still don’t like them.

Talented Co Down musician with more than one string to her bow

You’ll remember my story a while back about traditional Irish music group Na Leanai (Irish for The Children), a group whose four members — Fra, Sorcha, Eimear and Rynne — are all offspring of the famous Sands family.

Well, I can tell you today that Eimear, sister of Sorcha and daughter of Anne, is also a talented artist.

In fact, she designed and painted the spectacular cover of Na Leanai’s album Kindred Roots. Eimear sings in the group, based in Rostrevor, and occasionally plays drums. Right now she is at work planning the cover of Na Leanai’s new album, called Branching Out.

Na Leanai are making an impact on the music scene everywhere with their haunting airs, lively jigs and vocal harmonies.

Old superstition claims that storms are in lap of the gods

Great storms like the hurricane that raged in Florida and elsewhere recently causing havoc have from time immemorial been believed to be the gods on high showing off their anger.

Ancient mythology had it that terrible winds are blamed on the Devil and his witches.

Once upon a time, claim E and M.A. Radford in their paperback of superstitions, it was unlawful in the countryside to rebuild a house that had been destroyed by a thunderstorm. There used to be a belief, too, that ferns of all kinds protected any house they happened to be in or close to from damage by storm.

And there used to be a belief that to cut or burn ferns brought down the rain.

But according to tradition, says Philip Swann, who knows about these things, the cure for storms and high winds is the dew which falls from heaven.

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