Son of environmental journalist Brian Black, who died in tragic harbour accident, opens up about loss
Selling his dad Brian’s beloved boat was one of the hardest things Kieron Black has had to do in the past year and it was a poignant moment captured on camera for a new BBC series.
Kieron’s dad, award-winning environmental broadcast journalist Brian Black (77), lost his life in a tragic accident in August 2020 when his car slipped off the quay in Strangford Lough as he was trying to launch his boat.
The death of the renowned journalist stunned Northern Ireland and the close-knit Strangford community where he lived.
For Kieron and his sister, Sarah Brown, it was an unbearable loss as they were already grieving the death of their mum Lesley (76) just 10 months earlier from lung cancer.
Now as he prepares to take part in a new series of The Chronicles of Strangford for BBC 1, Kieron talks about how his own life became suspended the day that his dad died.
The renowned artist, illustrator, cartoonist and now children’s author allowed cameras to film the painful moment he parted with Pavane, the boat Brian famously sailed to the Arctic on numerous occasions.
Kieron admits: “I was honoured to be asked to be part of the series as I felt it was honouring dad and his legacy and his work on the Lough — his contribution to maintaining and restoring the natural world of Strangford. It seemed a perfect match.”
Made by Waddell Media, The Chronicles of Strangford is narrated by Armagh-born actor Colin Morgan.
Starting tomorrow on BBC One Northern Ireland at 7.30pm, the series follows characters in and around the Lough over the course of four seasons. The story of the Lough is told through the people, who live and work there, preserving traditions and protecting wildlife.
Kieron appears in the spring and summer episodes and we see him prepare his dad’s boat for sale and later as he watches it sail out of Strangford, bound for its new home in Scotland.
He admits: “It was very hard parting with his boat. I’m a sailor and it was in my mind to keep it. I did keep his camper van, I couldn’t part with that.
“Brian had all sorts of instruments in it for sailing to the Arctic; it wasn’t the type of boat you would tootle around the Lough in.
“It was all very Brian, he knew what bit to kick or put your finger in to make it work.
“I felt it needed to go to someone who would look after it and treasure it.
“All the things I watched dad do to get it ready is what I did for the sale.
“On the day it was the perfect morning and as I started her up to get her ready to hand over to the buyer who was from Scotland, I was thinking ‘I’m keeping it, you can get the plane back home’. It was very hard to watch it sail away.”
Kieron (51) lives in Killough with his wife Yulia and their daughter Penelope (9).
Very much a chip off the old block, he too is an adventurer living for the outdoors and a passionate surfer, mountain biker and snow boarder.
He was a babe in arms when his father first carried him on his back up Mountain Errigle.
Also renowned in his profession as an artist, he is known for his portraits, illustrations and more recently has become the author of a children’s book, The Goblin’s Blanket.
It tells the story of the adventures of Ogie, a goblin and Gerald the cat as they set off in search of a cherished blue blanket, lost by Ogie.
Kieron also teaches art and when Covid hit, like many others, he found his business closed overnight.
It led him to develop a new style of working online where he shares his art, its highs and lows, with subscribers on the creators’ website Patreon, also famously used by Stephen Fry.
He admits that his work life stopped initially due to Covid but just a few months later it broke down completely with the horror of his dad’s death in August.
Kieron says: “When Covid suddenly hit, I had just got my first book published and had planned a road trip to promote it but everything stopped.
“I started doing daily cartoons about the pandemic, not laughing at the seriousness of it but at the mishandling. I was sending them to Private Eye and they kept saying ‘no thanks’ and then one day they took one and I was delighted.
“Dad phoned me up because he was searching for the issue it appeared in and couldn’t find it. Half an hour later he had his accident. That was the last conversation I had with him.”
On the morning of August 4, 2020, Brian had been preparing to board his boat to sail to Scotland to see his daughter Sarah who lives in Argyle.
A witness reported that he had got out of his car which then began to move. It is believed he was trying to stop it when he got back in but it rolled over the edge of the quay into the water.
Locals ran to the scene and used a hammer to smash a window on the vehicle to try and free him.
A major operation was launched involving the NI coastguard and the Fire and Rescue Service.
Brian was taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital where he died.
The shock of his father’s death left Kieron numbed for a long time as he was already trying to process the loss of his mother.
He recalls: “I was utterly destroyed and I didn’t work or drive or do anything for a long time.
“I had to get therapy after mum died. I was with her and held her hand as she passed away. I think that was the first time I really actually grew up and it was the worst thing that had ever happened to me.
“I had only started to learn how to grieve and to understand what grief was when dad died.
“It was like the airplane had crashed twice in 11 months! I was destroyed and I lost my sense of self.”
It was around a year later that Kieron received a message out of the blue from a young boy in France asking him when he was bringing out his next children’s book.
He says: “I was so far out of me that at first I didn’t even know what he was talking about. That planted a wee seed and I did four pages of the comic featuring Gerald and Ogie and sent it to the boy.
“I realised I had all these stories inside me and if I didn’t tell them before I die they would never get told so that started me back to work again.”
Kieron is currently working on his sequel to his book called Gerald the Annoying, which subscribers can see coming to life on his Patreon platform.
He was overwhelmed to learn this past week just how much his characters have captured the imagination of fans when one of his subscribers presented him with a detailed model of the snow tank from his comic strip.
Killough butcher and “scratch maker”, John Wilson who creates models from bits of rubbish and house hold items, crafted perfect replica of the unique vehicle.
Kieron says: “John asked me could he do the snow tank from my comic and I was honoured.
“Blown away doesn’t cover it. He’s actually created his own narrative around my tech and my characters, brought my story forward without ego, just by building. It was emotional. And then he just gifts it to me. One of life’s gifts.”
Kieron believes both his parents would want to see him and his sister Sarah get on with their lives but the pain of their loss, he says, is something that never goes away.
He adds: “You don’t heal, you are scarred and life is different now. My wife’s birthday was last week and you still wait for Brian and Lesley’s call to wish her a happy birthday. I believe they wouldn’t want to see me moping, they would want to see me living and enjoying my life. “
The first episode in the series Chronicles of Strangford - Chapter Two – Autumn, can be seen on BBC 1 at 7.30pm tomorrow night and on BBC iPlayer.