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Why the Big Man was certain my Pioneer pal Bill was on the sauce

By Eddie McIlwaine

No matter how hectic the current election season gets, it will have no comparison, in my book, to the drama that took over the country way back in February 1969, when the 'Big Man', Ian Paisley, first entered the political arena and came so close to snatching the Bannside seat in the old Northern Ireland Parliament from Captain Terence O'Neill, the sitting MP and then Prime Minister.

It was the time, 48 years ago, of the 'Let me smell your breath' controversy that dominated the scene on the stage of Ballymena Town Hall immediately after the result was announced.

I'll tell you this, it will be a cakewalk in every constituency this time, compared to '69 in Bannside.

There was a stunned silence when nearly man Rev Paisley, who came within 1,414 votes of O'Neill, demanded of shocked RTE interviewer Bill O'Herlihy, "Let me smell your breath", after Bill asked a question Ian didn't want to answer so soon after nearly pulling off the result few observers anticipated. He wanted to collect his thoughts without hindrance from interviewers.

Let me hasten to add that there certainly was a smell of hooch in the air on that stage, but it wasn't coming from O'Herlihy, a committed Pioneer, who sadly passed away several years ago, aged 76.

He took exception to the suggestion that he had been drinking, but O'Herlihy had only himself to blame - he shouldn't have even been on the stage in the first place.

The order was that only the party candidates and election officials were allowed up there, with the Press and radio and television occupying the body of the hall.

I ignored the rules and followed Rev Paisley up the short flight of stairs and onto the stage as the result was about to be announced - and Bill followed me.

Some time later, I convinced the Big Man that the liquor he had smelt was from the breath of someone else altogether and that our friend from RTE wasn't guilty.

Captain O'Neill, realising he was out of favour by the way the votes fell that evening, resigned as premier soon afterwards and left politics altogether within a few months, paving the way for Ian Paisley to become an MP for the first time.

The rest, of course, is history and so, too, is the Big Man, who died in 2014, aged 88.

Katherine could stage Belfast return

Away from singing songs such as Time To Say Goodbye, What's The Use of Wondering and many other hits, the charming Katherine Jenkins will be delighted to learn that one of her favourite theatres won't be closed down for refurbishment this year.

Mezzo-soprano Katherine (36) has told me more than once that she has a liking for the Grand Opera House in Belfast, and the change of plan means that chief executive Ian Wilson, who is also a fan, can now get together with her management to negotiate an early appearance back on stage.

One of the first to spot Katherine's talent years ago on her first visit to Belfast was the late Belfast Telegraph sports editor, Malcolm Brodie, to whom I introduced her after a performance.

She is married to film director Andrew Levitas, and they have a young daughter named Aaliyah. Katherine has recently been starring with Alfie Boe in Carousel at the London Coliseum.

Katherine was a model and a tour guide before her golden voice was discovered by record producers. Gary Barlow has also written songs for her.

Sharing memories of Mackie's

Mackie's factory, on the Springfield Road in Belfast, where US President Bill Clinton once made a keynote speech, is no more. It has been torn down and replaced by the Innovation Factory business centre.

But Mackie's will have one final fling on the Springfield next month, in the form of an exhibition, I learn from the Innovation Factory's Shane Smith.

And former employees of Mackie's and their families are being invited back to share memories of the old engineering giant's heyday.

At its peak, James Mackie and Sons, which made textile machinery, employed almost 7,000.

During both World Wars, it employed even more when it switched to making munitions to support the armed forces.

President Clinton visited the factory in 1995 to speak in support of the Northern Ireland peace process.

If you are a former employee of the company, or family member, and would like to join in the celebration of Mackie's, contact Shane Smith at the Innovation Factory on 028 9590 2500.

Peter holds out Best hope for charity

Singer Peter Corry will be joining up with his brother, Alan, and his Festival Brass band to perform one of their favourite pieces together. It's Bring Him Home, which you'll remember Peter sang at George Best's funeral.

"We seem to inspire audiences when we do this one," says Alan. "We are always getting requests to have it on the set-list at our concerts."

The gig, at Holywood Parish Church next Friday night (May 26), is in aid of Asha, a charity in Delhi which supports the poor in slum areas and is close to both Peter and Alan's hearts.

Peter will also be singing hits from Les Miserables, in which he played Inspector Javert in the West End, and from Oliver, in which he was Fagin.

The concert is organised by the Holywood Parish Support Group, teams from which have worked in Delhi.

Tickets are available by ringing tel: 028 9042 3718.

Are there any members of the Caterpillar Club still out there?

Are there any members of the Caterpillar Club still around in the province? Only members of an exclusive fraternity of men who owe their lives to the parachute can join.

There used to be quite a few Caterpillars in Northern Ireland, all of them war veterans, mostly in the RAF, whose only hope of survival was baling out after their aircraft had been shot at by the enemy.

But the passage of time has taken its toll on these old-timers and in civilian life there aren't too many opportunities to bale out of aircraft.

I remember one Caterpillar describing how, in the spring of 1943, he was returning from a mission in a Wellington bomber when he had to bale out.

If you are one - or you know one - get in touch.

If cleanliness is next to godliness, why not put washing out on Sunday?

It's a sin to tell a lie, according to the old pop song. But it's also a sin to hang out the washing on a Sunday, say the islanders on Lewis, away up there in a remote coastal region of Scotland.

Observing that religious rule hasn't done the Lewis folk a lot of good.

I hear they are having a lot of problems inside and outside their church.

I see plenty of washing being hung out on lines down my way on the Sabbath, which must mean washing machines and tumble driers are going full pelt on that holy day, too.

There must be a lot of heathens out there.

Spectacular mosquito print will give exhibition some bite

A fearsome-looking mosquito is about to take over the Roe Valley Cultural Centre in Limavady from today. But never worry, the insect will be confined to a spectacular print created by the late, acclaimed artist Louise Bourgeois, who died in 2010 aged 99.

The mosquito is part of an exhibition of her work that includes etchings and prints. It runs until Wednesday, June 21.

Honoured with a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1982, Louise is acknowledged as one of the most original artists of the late-20th century and is best-known for her monumental sculpture Maman.

Many of her prints, including the Mosquito, were created when she was in her 80s.

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