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July 31, 2019updated 30 Sep 2022 8:09am

‘Giant of Belfast journalism’ Eddie McIlwaine dies aged 83 after six decades in newspapers

By James Walker

Tributes have been paid to “legendary” Belfast Telegraph journalist Eddie McIlwaine who has died of cancer aged 83.

A journalist at Belfast Telegraph has described him as “one of the last surviving giants of a golden era of Belfast journalism” while editor Gail Walker said his byline was synonymous with the paper for decades.

The Ulster Log diary columnist (pictured) was surrounded by his family when he died at his Antrim home this morning, according to the Belfast Telegraph.

Over his 60-year career, McIlwaine rubbed shoulders with stars such as Cliff Richard and Elton John while working as an entertainment writer following a period reporting on the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

He also witnessed the trial of the last man to be hanged in Northern Ireland and the operatic debut of tenor Luciano Pavarotti.

McIlwaine’s death comes less than two years after he revealed he was “logging off for the final time” in December 2017. During his career he also wrote for the Daily Mirror and the Larne Times.

He said he first visited the Belfast Telegraph offices aged 14, adding: “You see, the Telegraph used to store giant rolls of newsprint in a stable at Carnmoney Presbyterian Church, where my father was caretaker, and the drivers used to give me a ride to and from the newspaper’s headquarters.

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“As I grew older, I used to perch on one of those rolls in the church stable, pretend I was a reporter and scribble out stories, including an authentic one about a Spitfire that crashed out of control on the outskirts of the village.”

He said it was “inevitable” that he would join the Belfast Telegraph staff.

Writing in the Belfast Telegraph today, editor Gail Walker said: “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.

“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”.

Another article for the paper by journalist and actor Ivan Little described McIlwaine as “one of the last surviving giants of a golden era of Belfast journalism” who had the power to make “readers laugh and cry in equal measure in over 60 years in newspapers”.

Belfast Telegraph executive editor John Laverty tweeted: “So sorry to hear about the passing of my good pal and former Belfast Telegraph colleague Eddie McIlwaine.

“As everyone who knew him can testify, the word ‘character’ could have been invented for this legendary NI hack.”

UTV Editor of news Chris Hagan said the death of McIlwaine was “sad news” and marked the “end of an era”.

McIlwaine is survived by wife Irene, his son Edward and daughter Zara. His funeral will take place on Saturday afternoon.

Picture: Belfast Telegraph

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