Belfast Telegraph

Ian Adamson: Doctor, politician, historian, multi-linguist, renowned wit, a key mover in the restoration of the Ulster Tower at Thiepval and a friend of Van Morrison ... remarkable life of the late Belfast Lord Mayor

Ivan Little talks to some of the many friends of the ex-Belfast Lord Mayor, who has died aged 74

Former Belfast Lord Mayor Ian Adamson with his wife Kerry at his swearing-in as Belfast High Sheriff
Former Belfast Lord Mayor Ian Adamson with his wife Kerry at his swearing-in as Belfast High Sheriff
Former Belfast Lord Mayor Ian Adamson at the Somme with former Secretary of State Peter Hain
Former Belfast Lord Mayor Ian Adamson receives his Belfast Lord Mayor chain of office from outgoing mayor Eric Smyth
Loquacious: Ian Adamson
Dr Ian Adamson with Van Morrison (left) at his swearing-in ceremony as High Sheriff

One of the warmest tributes to Dr Ian Adamson, the colourful and charismatic unionist politician and former Lord Mayor of Belfast who has died at the age of 74, has come from a close friend who is also a former first citizen.

West Belfast Sinn Fein MLA Mairtin O Muilleoir praised Dr Adamson as an "exceptional ambassador for a shared society and a united community here".

Mr O Muilleoir said: "Ian went places that other people would never go. I saw him like a traditional Irish matchmaker who brought people together who thought they would never be united. He even lived on the Falls Road for a time during the hunger strike."

Dr Adamson, who was also a friend of singer Van Morrison, was a fervent multi-linguist who could read 15 languages and helped to pioneer the Ulster-Scots movement.

On his website he declared himself to be a British Unionist, an Irish Royalist and an Ulster Loyalist.

He was also an enthusiastic historian who wrote a large number of books on a wide range of subjects including dialects and poetry.

Politically, he was seen as a progressively-minded Ulster Unionist who sat on Belfast City Council from 1989 to 2011, and who also served as an MLA for East Belfast for five years from 1998.

He was Deputy Lord Mayor in the mid-90s before moving into the Lord Mayor's office two years afterwards and he later became High Sheriff in 2011 when people at his swearing-in ceremony were surprised to see Van Morrison turning up and being pictured along with Dr Adamson and his wife Kerry, who now works for the Belfast singer's management team.

Dr Adamson said: "As soon as Van heard about my appointment as High Sheriff, he was on the phone saying he would be there and he never lets me down. He has every one of my books and I am flattered."

Dr Adamson subsequently turned down media requests to say more about how their friendship had developed.

Among the other guests in the City Hall that night was the Rev Ian Paisley, a close friend of Dr Adamson, who was the DUP leader's personal physician.

Dr Paisley also revealed that he turned to Dr Adamson for advice on cultural and historical issues.

Friends and colleagues of Dr Adamson were agreed that his dry wit and laconic way of talking disguised a highly intelligent man who was a deep and radical thinker and who didn't just talk about making changes but also put his thoughts into action.

He was one of the prime movers in the establishment of the Somme Association's Somme Heritage Centre at Conlig - the village where he was brought up - and helped push through the restoration of the Ulster Tower on the battlefield site at Thiepval in France.

Dr Adamson was awarded an OBE in 1998 for his services to local government and on his move into the world of Twitter in 2007 took delight in using a picture of him greeting the Queen as his avatar.

One of his last contributions on Twitter was a retweet of a post which said Prime Minister Theresa May wasn't fit to govern.

Dr Adamson had for more than 20 years been a highly active blogger sharing his views online about everything from religion to social history.

His last blog was in April last year when he wrote about a visit to Dublin with colleagues from his Pretani Associates company, whose mission statement is to build stability for societies by promoting common identity.

Dr Adamson was passionate in his zeal for Ulster Scots. In 1992 he helped found the Ullans Academy, a group which included an eclectic mix of unionists and nationalists who he said were seeking to discover what united them rather than what divided them.

Former UDA leader Andy Tyrie was also part of the academy, whose members were a common sight on Saturday mornings in an east Belfast coffee shop.

At a gathering in Carrickfergus seven years ago to celebrate the life of Columbanus, a saint revered by both traditions here, Dr Adamson told me that the Ulster-Scots and the Ulster Gaelic languages must be treated in tandem and could be part of the healing process in Northern Ireland.

He said: "Ulster-Scots is a very rich and very expressive language which is part of our common speech. I'm not into total bi-lingualism or even tri-lingualism, but I think Ulster-Scots should be part of the curriculum for young people to understand their backgrounds and what language in general is all about.

"I know the culture has sort of taken over but I am more orientated towards the language, though it has become in many circles something that people don't want to know about."

Friends said Dr Adamson was particularly pleased to be recognised for his work with disabled children and the unemployed in the Falls area of Belfast several years ago when he was accepted as a member of the International Medical Association of Lourdes.

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann led his party's tributes to the Queen's University Belfast graduate.

Mr Swann said Dr Adamson made a huge contribution to cultural and political life in Northern Ireland and would be greatly missed.

The former Speaker of the Assembly Dr John Alderdice said: "He was a real character and his passing is a genuine intellectual, healthcare and political loss."

UUP chairman Lord Empey, who served with Dr Adamson at City Hall and Stormont said: "His flair for cultural issues, particularly as they applied to the Ulster-Scots tradition, were brought to life with his lectures and anecdotes. Those of us who were colleagues will miss him greatly."

The DUP's East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson said: "Ian was one of the most warm, witty and wonderfully engaging colleagues on Belfast City Council. He had a disarmingly charming personality alongside a sincere strength to his unionism."

Dr Adamson's self-avowed friendships with people from outside traditional Protestant and unionist circles often raised eyebrows.

The former Catholic Primate of all-Ireland Dr Tomas O Fiaich was one of those friends and the Cardinal even wrote the preface to one of his books.

Dr Adamson and Sinn Fein's Mairtin O Muilleoir may have been poles apart politically but the former Executive minister said he was proud to count the "exceptional" Ulster Unionist as a friend.

He added: "Not many people know that he lived on the Falls Road when he was a doctor in the children's hospital. And that was during the hunger strike.

"He worked through some of the worst times of the Troubles. And he was also Lord Mayor during difficult days in the City Hall but I always found him to be a very genuine and a very kind man."

Mr O Muilleoir added that Dr Adamson had many ties across the barricades: "Ian was a wonder to behold. He spoke at my inauguration in German, Irish and English. I respected him and admired him greatly. He was a unionist, a very specific type of unionist with an incredible inclusive world view."

Dr Adamson was always a star turn at the Aisling Awards organised by Mr O Muilleoir's west Belfast-based newspaper group at the time.

In 2012 Dr Adamson presented the top award, the Roll of Honour, which he had previously won himself, to Ballymurphy priest Father Des Wilson.

Dr Adamson, who gave the cleric a blessing in the Sioux language, was called upon to make many speeches at the awards ceremony down the years.

As the regular host, the only problem I had was to try to stop him in mid - and loquacious - flow.

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