Belfast Telegraph

Why bickering over the name of a leisure centre insults the memory of heroes like Blair Mayne who fought for a free world

By Lindy McDowell

Somewhere in our house, in one of those places where I put things to be safe but can never ever lay hands on them again, there is a torn sheet of paper with the names of a squad of rugby players from the 1930s written in thin, elegant strokes.

This treasure was given to me some years ago by the acclaimed writer and journalist Martin Dillon.

I can't even recall which rugby team featured on the sheet of paper - Queen's University? Malone? Ards?

But the man who'd written out his selection was unforgettable.

Robert Blair Mayne. Known to history as 'Paddy' Blair Mayne.

Mayne was already a giant of the sporting world by the late Thirties, having been capped for Ireland and the British Lions. He was a brilliant golfer and boxer too.

But then came the Second World War ...

At the suggestion of his close friend, Eoin McGonigal, Mayne had been invited by David Stirling to join what was later to become the Special Air Service regiment. The SAS.

The staggering heroism of the man from Newtownards, which led to him becoming a fighting legend, one of the most decorated British soldiers of the Second World War, has been recorded in countless books.

The French recognised him with the Croix de Guerre and the Legion d'Honneur, the British eventually with a citation for the Victoria Cross.

This was later controversially downgraded to a lesser award to the disbelief and outrage of many, including military chiefs of the day.

Even King George VI is said to have expressed his dismay.

There are reasons why Mayne's VC citation would have rankled some in the Defence establishment. He was not an easy man. Ruthless, fiery and a hard drinker, he didn't always respect his superiors or their rules.

He was outlandish. Fighting with the French Resistance, at one point he parachuted into their mountain hideout with a gramophone strapped to his leg.

Later, fuelled with copious liquor, he encouraged his comrades to join him in endless choruses of The Mountains of Mournes. Wary of his hair-trigger temper, they did their best.

And he was, it is now widely believed, gay - although like most homosexuals in an era when prejudice against them was so virulent, he kept his private life very private.

There were rumours, though. This too would not have endeared him to the establishment.

Paddy Blair Mayne was a complex man. And not all his actions escape censure. But he was undoubtedly a colossus of European military history, larger than life, a true legend and a sporting hero. And he came from here.

Which means that now, inevitably, we're fighting over whether we should name the local leisure centre after him ...

What is wrong with us in this country that we can never get over ourselves?

Once there's even a hint of a row over any naming controversy, inevitably heels will be dug in on both sides of the old Prods/Catholics, themmuns and us, divide.

Name a centre after Mickey Mouse in this country and somebody will find a reason why this offends against their culture.

But Paddy Blair Mayne and the generation he belonged to - and the legions from all sides and from throughout Ireland who fought in that monumental conflict - were so much bigger than what we have become today. We have become petty. Picking at each other's scabs. Seeking out insult and cause to be offended. We should be better than this.

By coincidence, tomorrow is the anniversary of the death of Blair Mayne in 1955. Driving home from Bangor late at night on December 14, his car collided with a farm vehicle.

How shabby that the anniversary of one of our greatest should be marked by an unworthy row over whether remembering him could be construed as divisive.

Mayne's legacy, and that of the generation of heroes who fought alongside him, was a free world.

That, I think we can agree, sort of dwarfs, the current bickering over the nameplate on a Newtownards council facility.

And here's something else we're rubbish at

We aren't great at recycling, are we? New statistics released this week on recycling rates show that while those tidy Germans are way out in front and Wales comes second on the chart, Northern Ireland is way back in 20th place.

We are, however, ahead of Australia, Finland, France and Hong Kong, all of which would have struck me as more eco-friendly places.

So how did the Welsh get to be so good? Is it because their local councils make it easier? Or do they have a different way of counting the stuff?

We need somebody to tell us why are we deemed so rubbish at recycling.

Brexit border issue has us all cracking up

What is our current understanding on border consistency? Depending on who you listen to - or what you read - there appears to be a wide difference of opinion on the future pliability of the border.

Some say rock-hard. Some are obviously hoping for a bit of fudge. In the Great British Brexit, the smart money seems to be on a soggy-bottomed border. Firm-looking from afar, but mushy close up.

Worryingly, one newspaper (The Guardian) ran a headline this week about "David Davis seeking to close Brexit border rift with Ireland".

A rift as well as a border. We really are cracking up.

Belfast Telegraph

Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph