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The tragic link between Jane Eyre author and Antrim hamlet

Charlotte Bronte
Charlotte Bronte
Alison Moyet

By Eddie McIlwaine

There is a connection between Killead in south Antrim and Charlotte Bronte, author of the novel Jane Eyre, a play based on which finishes its run at the Grand Opera House in Belfast tonight.

You see, Arthur Bell Nicholls, who married the eldest of the Bronte sisters in June 1854, used to live on winding Tullywest Road on the outskirts of the picturesque little village.

In fact, the house where he grew up while attending Killead Presbyterian Church is still standing.

As a young man, Nicholls studied for the ministry and eventually was appointed curate to Charlotte's father, the Rev Patrick Bronte, at Haworth in Yorkshire.

And, in between clerical duties for him and writing stories for her, the couple fell in love and married.

The story goes that they honeymooned back in Ireland and villagers like to believe they worshipped at Killead Presbyterian Church - although this is disputed by members of The Bronte Society.

Charlotte soon became pregnant, but then tragedy struck the couple. She fell ill and died in 1855, the year after their marriage, aged only 38. And Arthur, far from home, was broken-hearted.

It isn't known if this young clergyman widower returned home to south Antrim. Charlotte is buried in the Bronte family vault at St Michael's in Haworth.

Her dark, forbidding novel Jane Eyre, which she published originally under the pseudonym "Currer Bell" at a time when women writers were frowned upon, is today regarded as one of the most famous works of English fiction.

It is the first-person story of Jane's hard life from childhood right until she falls in love with Edward Rochester, who employed her as a governess, only to discover at the altar, as she is about to marry him, that he is already married and that his wife, now insane, is locked away in the attic.

Charlotte is the author of other stories - Shirley (published in 1849), Vilette (1853) and The Professor, which was published posthumously in 1857. But none of them quite measures up to the drama and pathos of Jane Eyre.

I first read this novel way back when I was still at sc hool and it had quite an impact on me - young and unworldly as I then was.

Singer Alison's noteworthy achievement

Singer-songwriter Alison Moyet, who will be appearing at the Ulster Hall in Belfast on Sunday, October 29, has another special talent which could prove useful on stage.

You see, in her early days, after school in Essex, Alison trained successfully as a piano tuner.

So, if the piano goes a bit off-key during a number, she can always put it to rights.

"It hasn't happened yet, but you never know," she chuckles.

Alison had several hits with the group Yazoo before she went solo - and earned herself a nickname at the same time.

Her debut solo album, Alf, was a smash hit everywhere and she has been called Alf by friends and relations ever since.

Alison, who occasionally works with Van Morrison, has had great success with self-penned songs like Only You, Invisible and All Cried Out.

My favourite Moyet ballad is one called Love Letters, which has a nice romantic touch.

The day JFK played a round in NI

Who was the most famous individual to play the Dunluce links at Royal Portrush Golf Club, where the 2019 Open Championship will be held?

No, it wasn't a professional golfer. In fact, it was John F Kennedy.

The playboy future president was a law student at Harvard in the summer of 1940 when he and his father, Joe, the American ambassador in London, visited Portrush.

Their host, Dr Sloan Bunting, took them golfing at the famous course, which was founded in 1888.

According to a local, the late Leslie Mann, who came face-to-face with JFK at Dr Sloan's surgery, the ambassador and his son, who would one day be the US President, also paid a visit to the Giant's Causeway.

Some years later, JFK was invited to open a facility at the Causeway, but he was killed in Dallas before he could accept.

Soon after leaving Northern Ireland, JFK joined the US Navy and served as a commander of motor torpedo boats in the south Pacific.

Kennedy then went into politics and, at 43, was the youngest-ever US president.

Why Glen is still gentle on my mind

It is perhaps ironic that Glen Campbell has died, aged 81, exactly 50 years after his friend, river boatman John Hartford, who was also a songwriter, presented him with Gentle On My Mind, way back in 1967.

Glen told me once in Belfast that this was the greatest country song ever and it did, indeed, win four Grammy Awards and his version alone sold five million copies.

Hartford was with Campbell as a guest when the country singer played the Waterfront Hall in 1999, but I've no idea where he is now.

I'm certain, though, that he and Glen would have been having some sort of celebration of that 50th anniversary of Gentle On My Mind. Hartford's song turned Campbell into an overnight star.

"He and I are going to go sailing up a few rivers," I remember Glen telling me. "John's a close friend."

Rolling back the years with Thomas the Tank Engine

Thomas the Tank Engine and the Fat Controller will make celebratory appearances at an exhibition today and tomorrow at Methodist College in Belfast, organised by the Ulster Model Railway Club.

There will be displays featuring Irish, British, European and American railway layouts, promises organiser Brian King.

The club meets twice a week and is more than 50-years-old with 50 members, who run models on special tracks.

"The exhibition is for the young and the not-so-young," Brian said.

It runs at the sports hall in Methodist College until 5pm today and tomorrow from noon to 5pm.

I can't wait to catch a glimpse of Thomas after so many years.

Expect sparks to fly when Tweedie sisters appear at Belfast Tattoo

A dream will come true for Highland dancer Olivia Tweedie and her twin sister Andree when they swing into action at the Belfast Tattoo in the SSE Arena next Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

In fact, it will be a real family affair at the event. Olivia and Andree will be accompanied on stage by their mother, Laura, who runs the Clan Davidson School of Dancing.

"It's a way of life," says Olivia. "I've even performed with Andree at a 100th birthday party."

Their favourite dance - one with which they have won championships - is called Breislea, after a Scottish song.

Olivia, who by day is a petrol station attendant, is looking forward to starting an electrical engineering course at Belfast Metropolitan College next month.

Pal's plan to mark his birthday became a catalogue of errors

Here's a hard to believe, but true story: a friend of mine and his wife were leafing through a travel brochure; the object of their labour to book a holiday in India.

Somehow, they managed to turn over two pages at once without noticing, read an order form and emailed acceptance of a trip which appealed to them - only to discover that they had booked a visit to Burma. I know: you can't take it in.

However, I can tell you they leave on September 28, which is my friend's birthday.

I only hope they don't wind up on the Causeway Coast, instead of down the Burma road to Mandalay.

Oh yes, they could have cancelled Burma and still gone for India.

However, it would have caused them bother and money.

So, they've decided just to go ahead.

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