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    Ballintoy Harbour, Co. Antrim
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    Whiterock Beach, Co. Antrim
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    Hillsborough Fort, Co. Down
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    Giant's Causeway, Co. Antrim
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    Devenish, Co. Fermanagh
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    Hillsborough Lake, Co. Down

Category: BLOG_2017

The Enniskillen Poppy Day bombing: My memories from 30 Years ago.

By John Callister

The scene at the cenotaph in Enniskillen after the 1987 bombing

It’s exactly 30 years ago today, 8th November, since the Enniskillen Poppy Day bomb claimed the lives of eleven people. It was Remembrance Sunday 1987, and local people had gathered at the town cenotaph to remember the dead from two world wars. It was during this remembrance ceremony that an IRA bomb was detonated. In that instant, many lives were shattered and family members faced a future that would never be the same again.

I didn’t suffer like those who were directly affected by the bomb. No members of my family circle were killed or injured. But as part of a BBC team who would spend the week in Enniskillen after the bombing, it has poignant memories for me, even after these thirty years.

There we were, rightly or wrongly, working around the clock in a grief-stricken town, edit suites and other broadcast facilities assembled in a make-shift manner in a church hall. Had we come to comfort the townsfolk in their grief? To sympathise and offer condolences? Hardly. We had come primarily to feed our ‘media machine’ which was connected to other hungry ‘media machines’ around the world. Social media wasn’t an option in those days so in some ways it was up to those of us who were in situ, to gather stories from grieving relatives and present a picture of a town in mourning, to the world.

In some ways it felt like we were intruders – forcing ourselves in where we weren’t really wanted. Yet, we had a job to do, and society as a whole had granted us permission to be there and do that job. We had come to tell the story of a people who were grieving and suffering immense pain, and feed those stories to the world.

People were buried in several feet of rubble

Yet, on a personal level, I know I DID feel their pain. I DID empathise with them as they faced this agony. I would have done anything to ease their pain. Like many of the stories I had been involved with during the Northern Ireland troubles, I was amazed at how some individuals responded. How they refused to let any seeds of bitterness take root. How they looked to an ‘eternal’ perspective, committing their future to God and releasing their departed loved ones into His care. How some even had an attitude of forgiveness towards the perpetrators.

The ability to react in such a way is to me, one of life’s mysteries. It’s like the question I had asked time and time again, “Why do bad things happen to good people”? I stopped asking that question when, in my search, I did find the answer to an equally important question, “What happens to good people when bad things happen to them”? It was in a book written by the late Robert Schuller that I found a pointer towards an answer – ‘They become better people’. Schuller went on to explain that when people are caught up in tragedies and injustices such as Enniskillen, they are faced with two options; they can either become bitter people, or better people.

I’m not suggesting that if I was placed in the same circumstances I would have the ability to react in a positive way or become a better person. Nor would I in any way condemn anyone or underestimate the difficulty of adopting a good attitude when faced with such adverse circumstances. But one of the ‘big’ stories that emerged in the week following the atrocity was that of Gordon Wilson, whose daughter, Marie, was killed and who was himself injured in the attack. He repeated his 20-year-old daughter’s final words to him as they both lay in the rubble of the bombing. “Daddy, I love you very much,” she said. Her father’s response to the bombing, “I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge,” was reported worldwide, becoming among the most-remembered quotations from the Troubles. Gordon’s call for forgiveness and reconciliation came to be called the Spirit of Enniskillen.”

DUP leader Arlene Foster and NI Secretary James Brokenshire were among those who gathered for today’s ceremony, 8 Nov. 2017.

Gordon Wilson’s interview may have been the most quoted, but there were many other moving interviews from that time. Interviews with real people facing a real life, tragic situation, and yet finding words of hope and even inspiration to pass on to the world. Before that week was out, I had a certain inexplicable ‘feeling’ – a kind of satisfaction or purpose. I went from not wanting to be there, to wanting to be part of what was happening. It was as if I felt some ‘good’ was going to come out of this tragedy, something that would advance the cause of peace. I later learned that the IRA lost a lot of their international support due to this bombing.

Thirty years ago, Enniskillen challenged me. It challenged me to do more for the cause of peace so that a younger generation wouldn’t have to witness atrocities like this. Years later, I had the pleasure of returning to Enniskillen, this time to a peaceful town as an independent producer to carry out a number of filming projects for worldwide tourist promotional purposes, commissioned by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Fermanagh District Council. I also interviewed Gordon Wilson for a German TV outlet.  I grew to love the place. Over the years my family have enjoyed numerous holidays, weekends and days outings, in or around Enniskillen. It was a favourite, especially since my father was raised in County Fermanagh, not far from the town.

Days like today’s anniversary, are a reminder that in Northern Ireland, we’re on a journey towards peace. I can’t say if time has brought any degree of healing to those who lost family members and loved ones. I suspect the pain of their loss isn’t far beneath the surface and my heart goes out to them. But I’m thankful today for what Enniskillen taught me thirty years ago. And I’m thankful that that event became a turning point, and was the cause of many rejecting the path of violence and creating a new foundation for the relative peace that we enjoy in Northern Ireland today.

Photo Journeys Ireland: “That’s our Joe”: Irish Singer Remembered

The Market house, Mullingar, County Westmeath, with a statue of the town’s famous singing star, Joe Dolan.

My wife Sylvia and I stayed in Mullingar in County Westmeath while having a bit of a tour around the Republic of Ireland in July 2017. Having had a meal in Mullingar town on the first Saturday evening, we were passing the Market House on our way back to the car when we came across an intriguing statue. My perception was that most people who are honoured in this way are likely to have been deceased for a very long time, but this person was holding what looked like a modern microphone. Also, I couldn’t help thinking that the face looked familiar. Turned out, it did!

The bronze statue was in memory of an Irish singing star, Joe Dolan. I actually had the pleasure of meeting this man back in the 1980’s when I was working on a BBC documentary about Irish Showbands. As a prominent showband singer, Joe was an obvious choice to be featured. A plaque beside the statue revealed that Joe passed away ten years ago, on Boxing Day 2007, aged 68. It also stated that “His unique voice touched the hearts of many worldwide”.  

Joe dolan was the only Irish singer to reach number one in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. He was a constant presence on the hit parade in Ireland and overseas and was considered to be one of the most successful vocalists in Ireland.

Joe was the son of a bicycle shop owner, the youngest of eight children, born in Mullingar on 16th October 1939, into a musical family. Sadly, he lost his father at the age of eight, and his mother when he was 15, after which he left home and served an apprenticeship as a newspaper compositor for the Westmeath Examiner.

On completion of his apprenticeship in 1964, he formed ‘the Drifter’s’ showband with his saxophone-playing brother, Ben. Thus began a successful career as an entertainer and singer which lasted until 2004, when he had a hip replacement and some other health issues which meant that he was out of action for almost a year. He returned to the stage, however, and continued to perform and record until Autumn 2007, when he was forced to cancel some engagements due to ill health. It was just a few weeks later that he passed away on Boxing Day from a suspected brain haemorrhage.

When news emerged of his death, his fans were devastated. It had been known that he was ill, but it wasn’t thought that his condition was that serious. His official biography states that, “The outpouring of grief that followed the death of Joe Dolan on St Stephen’s Day was extraordinary. Huge crowds from all over Ireland and abroad attended his funeral, confirming his place as the most popular singer in the country.”


Perhaps a measure of the esteem in which Joe is held in Mullingar, was demonstrated by a local man when I was snapping these photos. As he passed by he simply said to me, “That’s our Joe”.

Photo-journeys Ireland: Monasterboice Monastic Site

I spent a recent holiday visiting some locations in Ireland that I hadn’t been to for a long time or in a few cases, maybe never at all. Although I’ve toured the length and breadth of Ireland a number of times now, there are always new places to discover and explore. High on the list of priorities this time were some of the ancient sites for which Ireland is well known. Location number one on this tour was the Monasterboice Monastic Site in County Louth, just north of Drogheda.

An old graveyard, ruins of two churches, a round tower and the finest high cross in Ireland has turned Monasterboice into a very popular site for tourists.

Monasterboice is most famous for its spectacular high crosses, including Muiredach’s High Cross (5.5 metres high), regarded as the finest high cross in all of Ireland, also  a magnificent round tower which is around 35 metres high. This is the site of an early Christian settlement founded by Saint Buite mac Bronaigh, a bishop of Mainistir, who died in 521.   The church ruins at this site date from the 13th century, while, according to a plaque on the site, the round tower and crosses are from the 10th century. 

Muiredach’s High Cross (5.5 metres high)

The Muiredach’s high cross features biblical carvings of both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. It’s thought to be the most impressive surviving example of early medieval Irish stonework.  Biblical themes illustrated on the cross include:

  • Adam and Eve standing under the forbidden tree 
  • Cain and Abel. 
  • Moses drawing water from the rock.
  • Moses on Mount Sinai with Aaron and Hur supporting his hands/
  • David and Goliath. 
  • The seizure of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane.
  • Pilate washing his hands.
  • The Crucifixion of Christ. The central figure is Christ upon the cross.
  • The parting commission of the ascending Christ to his Apostles.
  • The Last Judgement.
  • An angel with the Book of Life.  
  • A choir of angels playing instruments.
  • Lost Souls being driven away from Christ by a devilish creature holding a trident.
  • A soul being carried to heaven by two angels 

This is not a complete list. All in all, a tremendous amount of biblical themes and stories are communicated through the Muiredach’s cross by these ancient artistic geniuses and communications experts from the 10th century.

The overall theme of the cross is, Christ the King, Lord of the Earth. 

The tower is about 35 metres high making it the second tallest in Ireland.

The Monasterboice tower is still in excellent condition except for its missing conical cap.

Round towers in Ireland were built between the 9th and 12th centuries. This tower at Monasterboice has an underground foundation of only sixty centimetres. However, these engineers knew what they were doing and time has confirmed their ingenuity. The tower’s round shape is gale-resistant and the section of the tower underneath the entrance is packed with soil and stones. The entrance-way is above ground level since a door at ground level would weaken the tower.

The entrance-way is above ground level since a door at ground level would weaken the tower

The Monasterboice tower is about 35 metres high and divided into four or more stories inside, connected with ladders.

Round towers were originally thought to have been used as watchtowers and as places of refuge for monks and valuables during times of Viking raids. Some academics however, hold to the view that they weren’t suited to providing protection beyond a warning of an impending attack. They may have been used as watchtowers but it’s likely that they also served as bell towers.

In 1097, the interior is thought to have caught fire leading to the destruction of the monastic library and other treasures.

The tower here at Monasterboice is still in excellent condition, though its conical cap is missing. It is the second tallest round tower in Ireland.

Monasterboice is also home to The Tall Cross also known as The West Cross. Standing about 7 metres high, it’s the tallest high cross in Ireland. Because of it’s size, this cross has more iconography than any other cross in Ireland. The two churches are from the 13th century.

Because this monastic site contains two of the finest High Crosses in Ireland and an ancient round tower which is in excellent condition, it’s incredibly popular with tourists. Two coach loads arrived during the time I was there.

Blog and photography by John Callister



The man who built his plane using You Tube videos

Love this story from the BBC.  Talk about following your dreams!  I’ve often resorted to You Tube videos, usually to get knowledge about some unfamiliar software or how to fix something. But what Paen Long has accomplished here with the help of You Tube is simply amazing.

It’s not as if the man was brought up with a lot of privileges. Quite the opposite. “One of six children of rice farmers, Mr Long grew up in the years when Cambodia was struggling to recover from the devastation caused by the Khmer Rouge and had never been in an aircraft of any kind.”

He may not have had the personal experience of flying in an aircraft. It only took the sight of a helicopter at six years of age to spark a deep desire, not only to fly, but to own his own plane.  “After seeing a helicopter when he was about six years old, he says, the urge to fly preoccupied his mind – for decades. “I always dreamt about aircraft every night. I always wanted to have my own plane.”

Here’s innovation for you: “The pilot’s seat is a plastic chair with chopped-off legs, the control panel a car dashboard, and the body made from an old gas container.”

Okay, he’s not quite there yet!  His first attempt wasn’t all he’d hoped for and yes, the villagers laughed at him when his contraption crashed to the ground. But history testifies that most successful people go through some horrible failures before eventually succeeding. Mr Long is only 30 years old and it’s his attitude that sets him apart as a winner: “The setback made him more determined than ever to succeed, and he soon turned his attention to a new project. Now, he is building a seaplane – also largely from scrap materials – which he believes he can make light enough to take to the skies.”

He’s aware of the danger he faces. He doesn’t have aviation experts to test and carry out health and safety checks before taking off.  “Danger,” he says, “we cannot predict it.”  What can be predicted though, is that with his kind of determination, if Mr Long doesn’t kill himself in the process, his dreams will undoubtedly come true.

Here’s the full story By Holly Robertson:

Mr Long is a trained mechanic who runs his own garage

For three years, car mechanic Paen Long stayed up long after his wife went to bed each night, spending countless hours watching videos on YouTube.

But these weren’t the viral clips or pop music videos that most people while away hours on. Mr Long, who lives on the side of a highway in Cambodia’s rural south-east, had a singular obsession: aeroplanes.

“In the beginning, I typed in the word ‘jet’,” he says. From there, he was led to videos that showed planes taking off and landing, flight simulations, and virtual tours of factories that produce aircraft.

One of six children of rice farmers, Mr Long grew up in the years when Cambodia was struggling to recover from the devastation caused by the Khmer Rouge and had never been in an aircraft of any kind.

After seeing a helicopter when he was about six years old, he says, the urge to fly preoccupied his mind – for decades. “I always dreamt about aircraft every night. I always wanted to have my own plane,” he says.

At first, it remained nothing more than a dream. Mr Long dropped out of school early and trained as a mechanic, one of the few non-farming professions available to young men without a high school education in his home province of Svay Rieng.

By last year his fascination with flight had taken over and Mr Long, now aged 30 and running his own garage in neighbouring Prey Veng province, decided he had saved enough money to realise his childhood fantasy.

“I started building a plane, making it in secret,” he says. “I was afraid that people would make fun of me, so sometimes I worked at night.”

Believing that a helicopter would be more complex to re-create than a plane, Mr Long based his design on a Japanese plane used in WWII. The one-seater aircraft, which has a wing span of 5.5m, took Mr Long almost a year to produce entirely from scratch out of mostly recycled materials.

The pilot’s seat is a plastic chair with chopped-off legs, the control panel a car dashboard, and the body made from an old gas container.

Mr Long has produced many parts of his aircraft from recycled materials

The moment of truth came on 8 March. Just before 15:00, Mr Long started the plane’s engine. Three people helped to push it to his “runway”: a nearby dirt road leading off the main artery toward rice paddy fields.

According to villagers, about 200 to 300 people (Mr Long generously estimates the crowd size to be around 2,000) turned out to watch their first local aviator in action.

He strapped on a motorbike helmet – his only safety precaution – and sat inside the cockpit.

The plane gained speed as he approached take-off before briefly lifting into the air – Mr Long says he reached a height of 50 metres – and crashing unceremoniously to the ground.

The sound of laughter greeted him on his return to Earth. “I was standing there and tears came down [my cheeks]. I felt emotional, because I couldn’t bear all the things they were saying to me,” he says, blaming the failure on the 500kg weight of his machine.

The setback made him more determined than ever to succeed, and he soon turned his attention to a new project. Now, he is building a seaplane – also largely from scrap materials – which he believes he can make light enough to take to the skies.

To date, his hobby has cost him thousands of dollars

No matter that his village in Prey Chhor commune is located about 200km from the ocean – once it’s built, Mr Long plans to transport the new prototype back to Svay Rieng by truck and launch it from the Waiko River.

He estimates that the original model cost him more than $10,000 (£7,700) to build and, to date, he has spent $3,000 on the seaplane – no small sum in a country where the minimum wage is $153 a month and 13.5% of the population lives below the poverty line.

Not to mention the fact that Mr Long could have treated his entire family to a lavish international holiday for that amount. But, for Mr Long, it’s no longer about simply flying. It’s about making the impossible, possible.

“I never thought about spending money on other things,” he says. “I never feel regret about spending all this money.”

Mr Long’s wife, Hing Muoyheng, says she worries her husband is putting himself in danger

Aside from those who mocked him, many others in the area are in awe of their eccentric neighbour. “I’ve never met such a person with an idea like this,” says Sin Sopheap, a 44-year-old shop vendor.

“It’s unusual to me,” says 29-year-old Man Phary, who runs a roadside restaurant near Mr Long’s house, “because among our Cambodian people, no-one [else] would do it.”

Mr Long’s wife, Hing Muoyheng, a 29-year-old car parts seller, says she worries about her husband’s safety, particularly as the couple have two young sons, but supports him nonetheless.

“I don’t know how planes work and he doesn’t have any experts to help him,” she says of her concerns. “I tried to ask him to stop a few times because I’m afraid, but he said he won’t cause any danger, so I have to go along with his idea.”

Yet although Mr Long hopes to cut the risks to himself and others by performing his July test flight over water, he’s acutely aware that his flight of fancy contains a host of variables, many of them outside his control.

“Danger,” he says, “we cannot predict it.”

Source: BBC

Invest NI plans 40,000 new jobs by 2021



Invest NI said it promoted 5,600 new jobs in the last financial year, broadly similar to 2015-16

Invest NI aims to deliver as many as 40,000 jobs by 2021.

It has published a new strategy, signed off by the Department for the Economy, which also aims to help companies win up to to £1.2bn of new export orders.

The body accepts the plan may need to be altered if a new executive is formed and sets a budget and policy priorities.

The strategy includes promoting the commitment to cut corporation tax to 12.5%.

But the introduction of the move as planned in 2018 remains uncertain as there needs to be an executive and assembly in place.

However, Invest NI chief executive Alastair Hamilton said Northern Ireland “continues to attract strong levels of inward investment”.

He said 22 new companies chose to move to Northern Ireland in the past 12 months.

Invest NI said it promoted 5,600 new jobs in the last financial year, broadly similar to 2015-16.

But only around 1,300 of these posts have so far been formally announced or made public.

Invest NI said rules around the election, EU referendum and now the general election, known as “purdah”, have contributed to delays in making announcements.

Source: BBC NI

Northern Ireland 15-year-olds ‘happy with lives’

By Robbie Meredith BBC News NI Education Correspondent


The findings are based on a survey of 540,000 students

Most 15-year-olds in Northern Ireland are happy with their lives.

That is according to an international study of students’ well-being.

The report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that Northern Irish pupils were more satisfied with their lives than their counterparts elsewhere in the UK.

They had an average satisfaction score of 7.24 on a scale from nought to 10, close to the OECD average of 7.3.

The findings are based on a survey of 540,000 students in 72 participating countries and economies who also completed the OECD Pisa tests in science, mathematics and reading in 2015.

In their responses to questions about their sense of well-being, Northern Irish boys generally expressed more satisfaction with their lives than girls.


A quarter of Northern Irish pupils reported skipping breakfast before school

Yet worries about exams and bullying remain a problem for many young people.

In Northern Ireland, about 70% of students said they were very anxious before a test, even if they were well prepared for it – well above the OECD average of 55%.

Around one in six Northern Irish pupils said they had were experienced bullying at least a few times a month.

However this was the lowest rate in the UK, with one in four students in England, for example, reporting similar levels of bullying.

Good relationships

A quarter of Northern Irish pupils also reported skipping breakfast before school.

The OECD study also suggests that heavy internet use leaves many pupils feeling lonely and less satisfied.

More positively, the study concluded that the vast majority of teenagers in Northern Ireland had good relationships with their parents and teachers.

Almost 95% reported that they spoke to their parents regularly about school and felt supported by them.


Northern Irish pupils also tended to be driven and ambitious

This meant they were more likely to perform better academically and be happier with their lives.

Students who felt their teacher was willing to provide help and was interested in their learning were about 1.3 times more likely to feel that they belonged at school, researchers found.

Northern Irish pupils also tended to be driven and ambitious with 95% saying they aimed for top grades in all of their courses.

More 15-year-olds in Northern Ireland (45%) also expected to complete a university degree than those in England, Scotland and Wales.

However, the study suggests that extensive internet use can lead to students being less satisfied with their lives.

Life satisfaction

In the UK, almost one in four students reported using the internet outside school for more than six hours a day.

This was well above the overall OECD rate, where one in six students reporting using the internet for a similar amount of time each day.

Generally, the study reveals large variations in life satisfaction across the 72 OECD countries.

In the Netherlands, fewer than 4% of young people said they were not satisfied with their lives.

But in South Korea and Turkey, 20% reported low satisfaction scores.

In Northern Ireland, by contrast, 12.6% of pupils said they were not satisfied with their lives.

Overall, the study found girls and disadvantaged students were less likely than boys and advantaged students to report high levels of life satisfaction.

Source: BBC Northern Ireland

Financial Services Union warns jobs at risk due to political instability


The warning comes days after First Trust Bank announced it was closing half its branches in Northern Ireland

The Financial Services Union has warned that jobs in the sector could be in jeopardy if there is continued political instability in Northern Ireland.

The warning comes days after First Trust Bank announced it was closing half its branches in Northern Ireland.

The organisation’s general secretary Larry Broderick told the BBC’s Inside Business programme that other EU countries were lobbying to take jobs out of the UK ahead of Brexit.

“Unless we in Northern Ireland get together and have a strategy, first of all to copper-fasten the jobs we have and to bring reassurance, but also it’s a very competitive environment in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“So I think work has to be done and in the absence of political stability and a direction and a plan in relation to that, we think in our sector, certainly there will be a lot of vulnerability of the jobs that are there as well.”

First Trust Bank announced on Wednesday that as many as 130 jobs will be lost with the closure of half its branches later this year.

The bank, which is owned by Dublin-based AIB, is one of the so-called “big four” banks in Northern Ireland.

Source: BBC Northern Ireland