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Eddie McIlwaine: After 60 years in newspapers, I'm Logging off for the final time



Eddie McIlwaine aged 25

Eddie McIlwaine aged 25

Eddie McIlwaine aged 25

After six decades in journalism - 40 of them writing the Ulster Log - I've reached the crossroads in my eventful career. In other words, the traffic lights of my journalism are about to go permanently red and I'm going to retire.

Mind you, it has taken a lot of deliberation after four decades of being a columnist and 20 years before that as a reporter, with the Larne Times, the Belfast Telegraph and the Daily Mirror.

I can tell you it was a privilege to return, eventually, to the BT, where readers seem to enjoy my quirky style.

Now, I'm going to concentrate on my memoirs, going back to my days as a schoolboy when the realisation dawned on me that I was born to be a writer.

I've put together some stories that I'm proud of, although I dislike the word 'exclusive'.

And I've made special friends in the print business - distinguished journalists like Roy Lilley, a former editor of the Belfast Telegraph, and Robin Walsh, a former controller at BBC Northern Ireland.

Sadly, other colleagues have passed on down the years - journalists like Graham McKenzie, Trevor Hanna, Ted Oliver, Norman Jenkinson, Alan Giff, Neil Johnston, Ted Scanlon and the brothers Bob and Colin Brady, to name but a few.

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So, while I'm still around, I have to tell you that I first entered the Belfast Telegraph building on Royal Avenue when I was 14 years old.

You see, the Telegraph used to store giant rolls of newsprint in a stable at Carnmoney Presbyterian Church, where my father was caretaker, and the drivers used to give me a ride to and from the newspaper's headquarters.

As I grew older, I used to perch on one of those rolls in the church stable, pretend I was a reporter and scribble out stories, including an authentic one about a Spitfire that crashed out of control on the outskirts of the village.

It scared me half to death, as the plane knocked a chimney pot off a house across the way from our place just before it came down.

It was inevitable that, one day, I would join the Belfast Telegraph's staff. I was deputy news editor for a while, but the highlight of my time was going to the Nobel Peace Prize Awards in Oslo with Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan in 1976.

I'm also one of the few Ulster journalists who has witnessed the black cap going on the head of a judge at a murder trial.

It happened in 1961, when I covered the trial of Robert McGladdery, who was found guilty of killing Pearl Gamble and was hanged in Crumlin Road Prison.

He was the last man hanged in Northern Ireland and the trial was conducted by Lord Justice Curran, whose own daughter, Patricia, had been murdered in 1952.

Diva who hit a bum note with Pav

The superstar who earned my admiration and respect down all those years was the late Luciano Pavarotti.

I was there at the Grand Opera House in Belfast in May 1963 when the then-unknown Italian tenor made his operatic debut.

And, years later, in 1999 to be exact, Luciano recalled that performance at the Grand Opera House when we met up again in London’s Ritz Hotel — just before the maestro returned to Belfast to sing in the open air at Stormont.

After our chat in the Ritz, Pavarotti presented my wife Irene and I with VIP tickets for the Stormont concert, which was a sell-out.

Earlier at the Ritz, there was a hush among music critics in the hotel suite when I reminded Pavarotti of a soprano appearing with him once upon a time in Madame Butterfly, who told him he was singing too loudly.

“I retorted that I could have been loud, but at least I was in tune,” he chuckled.

How my diary entry on Pepys led to an apology from Enoch

One politician with whom I had a kind of argument in my marathon career was the late Enoch Powell.

It happened when I wrote a Log story reminding readers that celebrated diarist Samuel Pepys once worked at Belfast’s Harbour Office and launched his first diary there.

 Enoch, who claimed to be an authority on Pepys, telephoned me to challenge the facts. But I was able to produce documentation that proved I was right and Enoch happily apologised.

Pepys, who died in 1703 aged 70, was a Royal Navy administrator and became chief secretary to the Admiralty even though he had no maritime experience.

The diary he kept from 1660-1669 presents his personal thoughts and accounts of events such as the Great Fire of London.

It’s traditional, but roast turkey doesn’t tingle my taste buds

What could be more traditional than a roast turkey for Christmas? Turkeys seem to have been around forever, but their popularity goes up and down.

The bird comes originally from North America, where it used to run wild, and the first Irish and European settlers found turkeys were a plentiful supply of meat.

Personally, I’m not a turkey fan, especially when the dish is served up with the plate loaded with sprouts. I’m told by friends sprouts taste better as you get older. Not so far as I’m concerned.

Did you know that you are supposed to cut a cross on the bottom of each sprout, at the stalk, before putting it in the water to boil? Nothing to do with the religious side of the season — it’s simply to help it soften more easily as it cooks.

Model citizen Julia travelling to Nepal to help young people

I have always liked to include a heartwarming story in the Log, so I’m pleased to be signing off this final column with one today.

It concerns 18-year-old student Julia Lena (ex-Victoria College) who is  preparing to go to Nepal as a volunteer with Raleigh International Citizen Service.

Julia is visiting the country from February to April and, with the help of her mother Jennifer, a family doctor in Belfast’s Shankill, her Italian father Alex and grandfather Derek Weir, a retired Presbyterian minister, she has raised more than £3,000 to take with her as aid money.

“I will be encouraging young people in sanitation and hygiene projects and teaching them how to save water,” Julia explains.

When she returns home, Julia will be involved in a Raleigh Making a Difference programme before heading to Warwick University to study economics and Italian.

Bad Reputation tie knot on reunion

Just as I go into an overdue retirement, Bad Reputation, a classic rock band I used to know well, are making a comeback.

“The reunion has been prompted by former fans,” says Siobhan Kerry, the lead singer. “We have matured, sorted out our family lives and are ready to pick up where we left off 15 years ago.”

“Remember the way The Eagles came out of hibernation so dramatically?” asks another member of Bad Reputation, Brian Kilfedder. “Well, we are doing the same.”

But Siobhan and Brian are celebrating another important event as well. The couple, who have a son Peter (18) and a daughter Lucy (14), are celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary.

“Bad Reputation were a hit at our silver anniversary party and we all clicked again,” adds Brian.

The band are performing at Comber Rec tonight and will also be playing The Errigle Inn in Belfast next Friday, December 29.

For the record, the Bad Reputation members are: Siobhan, Brian, Max Close, Stevie Campbell, Steve Prosser and John Campbell.

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