Giant of journalism who will be long remembered

Eddie McIlwaine.
Eddie McIlwaine.

Eddie McIlwaine, who died peacefully at his home in Antrim following a lengthy struggle against cancer, was one of the best-known journalists in Northern Ireland.

The 83-year-old was a native of Killead and was synonymous with the Ulster Log column in the Belfast Telegraph.

During his career spanning six decades, Eddie McIlwaine also worked as a reporter with the Larne Times and the Daily Mirror.

His interest in journalism began when he was a teenager and his father was caretaker of Carnmoney Presbyterian Church.

A stable belonging to the church was used as a store for giant rolls of newsprint for the Belfast Telegraph and drivers used to give him a ride to and from the newspaper headquarters in Royal Avenue.

He first visited the newspaper office when he was 14 and as he grew older used to pretend he was a reporter, to the extent of scribbling out stories on the newsprint, including one about a spitfire that had crashed near the village.

He would later say that there was an inevitability to his becoming a member of staff of the Belfast Telegraph.

He started his media career at the East Antrim Times in Larne, County Antrim, in 1955, then went to the Belfast Telegraph in 1957. He took up a job with the Daily Mirror in 1965 and later returned to the Belfast Telegraph group.

He will be remembered for his Ulster Log column in the Belfast Telegraph, and his job was also to interview showbusiness stars and write about the showbiz scene in the province.

During his career he met many famous names including Cliff Richard, Peter Sellers and Elton John, not least through his friendship with the well-known promoter, the late Jim Aiken.

Former Telegraph reporter Gary Grattan shared a story on social media of how when he was on the news desk around 10pm one Friday night he took a call from a man with an American accent asking for Eddie McIlwaine.

I said: “No, unfortunately he’s not in the office right now.”

He asked me if there was a number I could contact him on.

I explained that I wasn’t at liberty to pass on his number - but that if he would give me his name and details, I’d pass them on to Eddie and ask him to call him back.

So I said: “Can I ask who’s calling?”

“Yeah, it’s Charlton Heston,” he replied.

Obviously after hearing this I was a bit taken aback and inquired, “You mean, Charlton Heston - as in Moses?”

He laughed and said, “Yeah, same guy!”

In a tribute well-known journalist Ivan Little described Eddie as “one of the last surviving giants of a golden era of Belfast journalism” while Belfast Telegraph editor Gail Walker said his name was synonymous with the newspaper for decades.

“His Ulster Log captured something about the unique character of the city and its environs, its personalities, stars, celebrities, as well as its eccentrics, oddities and memorable tales, many of which bore retelling at intervals over his long tenure and which lost none of their appeal or charm for that,” she said.

“Moreover, his characteristic Ulster sensibility – which saw him rub shoulders across the decades with people such as Elton John as their careers ballooned into the status of global superstars, as well as keeping tabs on the world of sub postmistresses in Doagh – meant that his writing belied the image of a place which was otherwise making dark headlines across the world.”

She also described him as a “master of the succinct pen-portrait” and “a wry observer of our foibles across all our divides”.

The newspaper said in an editorial that “Eddie McIlwaine would not have been affronted to be called an old-fashioned hack. There was ink in his blood and although he served a tough apprenticeship in news, especially for a national newspaper during the Troubles, he made his mark in the world of entertainment, showbusiness and whimsy”.

Eddie had reported on the Troubles but his Ulster Log column was an antidote in a province where bad news was often never far away.

The long-running column continued until December 2017 when Eddie logged off for the last time.

He had fought a lengthy battle against cancer and is survived by his wife Irene, whom he married in 1977, son Edward, daughter Zara and daughter-in-law Samantha.

A service of thanksgiving for his life was held at St. Catherine’s Parish Church, Killead on August 3.

Donations in lieu of flowers were encouraged to St Catherine’s Parish Church Killead Building Fund.