Belfast Telegraph's Eddie McIlwaine kept music alive in Troubles, says promoter
Ireland's top music promoter Peter Aiken has paid tribute to former Belfast Telegraph journalist Eddie McIlwaine, saying he helped to revive the flagging entertainment scene at the height of the Troubles.
The 83-year-old passed away on Tuesday after a lengthy battle against cancer.
Yesterday more people came forward to express their sadness, including former Krypton Factor host and TV news presenter Gordon Burns.
Mr Burns recalled how Eddie played a big part in him becoming a journalist after he interviewed him for a story when he was at school.
"It nearly got me expelled, but going to the Belfast Telegraph reporters' room sold that life to me," he said.
Eddie worked for the first part of his career as a news reporter with the Telegraph and the Daily Mirror, but later became one of Ireland's most respected and widely-read entertainment correspondents after his return to the Tele.
Impresario Mr Aiken said Eddie was a one-off whose positive stories about Northern Ireland and interviews with the stars of country and rock music encouraged even more famous names to come here during the worst of the Troubles.
Peter's late father Jim recruited Eddie as an ally in his quest to persuade reluctant musicians to visit Northern Ireland.
He added: "They were bleak days. A lot of the top acts were scared off by the Troubles.
"But dad knew he could rely on Eddie to write about the good side of life at the time."
Jim, the ex-GAA player from south Armagh, and Eddie, the ex-Boys' Brigade member from Carnmoney, forged a close friendship as well as professional relationship.
Jim used to joke that Eddie was his favourite Protestant.
The pair met every Friday for coffee and their conversations ranged from politics to religion and from football to horse racing.
Peter added: "They weren't always the cosiest of chats.
"They were men from very different backgrounds and they didn't hold back from expressing their opinions. Neither Eddie nor my father backed down."
Peter said it was a major shock to hear about Eddie's passing.
"I knew he hadn't been well but he rang me a few months ago for a catch-up. I didn't realise it would be our last conversation," he said.
"He was a wonderful journalist to work alongside and he was very supportive of all the concerts that we were bringing in.
"And because he got so much coverage of them in the Telegraph it meant that other newspapers started to take more of an interest in the music scene."
Peter said that Eddie didn't always understand the music that he was writing about.
He added: "But that didn't stop him. He was able to make front page news out of the visits of rock bands that he'd never heard of. He understood the importance of publicity, especially in the Seventies and Eighties when the city's entertainment scene desperately needed a boost.
"There was so much violence going on at the time that some papers argued they didn't have time to report on anything else. But for us to have access to a man like Eddie was essential.
"For us, he was the journalist to go to if we wanted a major story about stars of the entertainment world signing contracts for shows here."
Peter said Eddie was entertainment as a companion on trips with the Aikens to America and throughout Europe to interview the stars in advance of their visits to Ireland.
Peter recalled how Eddie had only the shortest of chats with Rod Stewart and managed to turn their encounter into a massive spread. However, the Aikens never got to the bottom of how Eddie managed to scoop an 'interview' in Ireland with reclusive megastar Michael Jackson, who had refused to meet journalists during his visit.
Peter said that his family's admiration for Eddie was boundless.
He added: "We knew that he had been a hard news journalist through the worst of the Troubles. And he had seen some terrible things.
"We also knew that he had experienced some very difficult times on a personal level but he turned his life around and his wife Irene and his children Edward and Zara were a blessing to him. We are all deeply saddened."
After Jim Aiken's death in 2007 Eddie penned a heartfelt article about his old friend, whom he called a philosopher and a peacemaker. He said the singing of the hymn How Great Thou Art as the promoter's coffin was carried from St Brigid's Church on the Malone Road would stay with him for ever.
Eddie's funeral is to take place on Saturday in St Catherine's Parish Church of Ireland at Killead near Crumlin.