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Piper hits right note as Lisburn man Billy marks 100th birthday without family during coronavirus outbreak

Billy Reid's 100th birthday was music to everyone's ears - literally.

The pensioner's only son, his two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, who live in France and England respectively, couldn't get to Northern Ireland for his milestone celebrations yesterday due to coronavirus.

But to show that all his loved ones were thinking about him on this special day, a close family friend organised for a piper to play in the garden outside the former RAF man's house.

Kim Sinclair, whose 87-year-old mum, Sheila, shares a home with Billy in Lisburn, told the Belfast Telegraph that he was "totally made up" with his big birthday surprise.

"My mum met Billy 16-years-ago when they were both living in sheltered accommodation," she said. "They became really good friends and when she decided she wanted to move out to a house, she insisted Billy went with her.

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Billy with his medals, cake and card from the Queen

Billy with his medals, cake and card from the Queen

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Billy with his medals, cake and card from the Queen

"They're great companions and I wanted to mark this special occasion for them both, especially when I heard that Billy's family couldn't get here because their flights were cancelled."

Billy, who grew up in Belfast, was deployed to Gozo, Italy, with the RAF from 1940 to 1946.

He worked as a butcher in Belfast after the war, but moved to Lisburn when he married Mable, who died in 1996, aged 77.

Birthday boy Billy, whose full name is William James Reid, met Shelia when she was 85 and he was 98 - and they're been together ever since. It was therefore no surprise to see her by his side during yesterday afternoon's al fresco festivities.

The piper, from the former Ulster Defence Regiment's North Down Association, played a trio of tunes for the father-of-one as up to 50 neighbours, some wearing party hats, joined the party from their own back yards.

The grandfather and great grandfather-of-two - who received cards from both Her Majesty the Queen and Irish President Michael D Higgins - then fetched his harmonica and played some tunes for the audience.

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Playing his mouth organ as neighbours look on

Playing his mouth organ as neighbours look on

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Playing his mouth organ as neighbours look on

A resident of the city, who heard music playing from two streets away, popped over to see what was happening, before congratulating Billy on his centenary and also thanking him for his service during the war.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph from Languedoc in southern France, only son, Peter Reid (68), said he was devastated not to be able to return to his native Lisburn to celebrate in person after his flight was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Instead, the father-of-two, an artist and photographer, later hooked up with his dad on Skype, which he said at least gave them all a virtual opportunity to share his father's landmark birthday with him. "We were planning to have a four generations photoshoot, but that couldn't happen, so we decided to get together on Skype," said Peter, a Queen's University Belfast graduate.

"He's only going to be 100 once; it's a major milestone and it's such a shame that we're missing it. I would really love to have been there for him, but we have to accept the situation for what it is.

"It would've been a major family reunion - but hopefully we'll do it soon.

"He'll be like the Queen or Paddington Bear; they have two official birthdays every year - so we'll get something organised when this is all over."

Billy's grandchildren - Stephen (34) and Kathleen (31) - and great-grandchildren, Dylan (three) and Edward (one) - who live in Yorkshire, England - also joined the virtual birthday party.

Piper Mark Smyth played Happy Birthday, Congratulations and an old Irish regimental tune called Killaloe, much to Billy's delight.

"Billy was over the moon," Mark told this newspaper.

Belfast Telegraph