Every time I pass through the small town of Lockerbie in Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland I think of the devastation caused 25 years ago today when a bomb exploded on board an aircraft in the sky above, sending the Boeing 747 crashing to earth and disintegrating on impact. 270 people including 16 crew and 11 people on the ground were killed when Pan Am flight 103 from London to New York was blown up, half an hour into its journey. I wrote about Lockerbie a year ago and included some pictures of gravestones of two of the victims who were buried in the cemetery at a local church.

Wreaths have been laid in Lockerbie to mark the 25th anniversary of the bombing and a service has been held in a local church. Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond and Lord Wallace, Advocate General for Scotland, were among those who took part in the wreath-laying ceremony at Dryfesdale Cemetery.

Families and relatives at Dryfesdale cemetery, Lockerbie  Photo: Getty Images ex BBC News

Families and relatives at Dryfesdale cemetery, Lockerbie Photo: Getty Images ex BBC News

The service was led by the Rev John MacLeod. Lord Lieutenant Jean Tulloch represented the Queen. During the service Rev MacLeod said: “It is 25 years after the day on which certain men chose to set aside their humanity and destroy the lives of 270 people in the air over this area of Scotland and here in the little town of Lockerbie – not only their lives but also those who survived, families and friends. What we the people of Lockerbie in this area will never tire of saying is we welcome you once again to this place where you know you are always welcome. In doing so we seek to comfort and console you.”

A representative of the US government, Craig Lynes, also spoke at the event. He said: “We have seen changes great and small throughout the world in the years since December 21st 1988. It is with pride that we declare once again our unshakeable commitment to continue the fight against terrorism. We owe that to each of you. Nobody can return what was taken from you that night. But we can and will continue to work and to fight for justice.”

Mr Salmond told BBC News: “Out of disaster, there are the bonds of friendship. Lockerbie has been a welcoming place for the relatives of those who died, and over the last 25 years has taken as good care of people as it possibly could. I don’t think you ever move on, you certainly never forget, but people do rebuild their lives and many have.”

Other gatherings to mark the anniversary of Britain’s worst-ever terrorist attack include a remembrance service at Westminster Abbey in London. In the United States, a ceremony is being held at the memorial cairn in Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington DC.

Most of the passengers and crew on board the aircraft were US citizens. A service of hope and remembrance was held at the Hendricks Chapel at Syracuse University in New York state, which lost 35 students who had been studying at its London campus. The service was followed by a procession to its Wall of Remembrance. A further service will also take place at the university’s Lubin House in New York.

Lockerbie Memorial Cairn, Arlington cemetery  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Lockerbie Memorial Cairn, Arlington cemetery Photo: © Michael Fisher

Events at the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia will centre on the Pan Am 103 Memorial Cairn. It is made of 270 blocks of Scottish sandstone, one for each of the victims of the bombing. Scotland Office Minister David Mundell is attending the service there.

Plaque on Memorial Cairn, Arlington Cemetery  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Plaque on Memorial Cairn, Arlington Cemetery Photo: © Michael Fisher

One man, Libyan Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, was convicted of the bombing at a special Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands in 2001. He was released from jail on compassionate grounds in 2009 after being diagnosed with cancer. He died at his home in Tripoli last year. His family have repeated their intention to pursue an appeal against the conviction.

Lockerbie Memorial  Photo: PM Office website

Lockerbie Memorial Photo: PM Office website

In a message reflecting on what he described as ‘a shocking event’, the British Prime Minister David Cameron paid tribute to the fortitude and resilience of those affected by the Lockerbie bombing. He said: “Over the last quarter of a century much attention has been focused on the perpetrators of the atrocity. Today our thoughts turn to its victims and to those whose lives have been touched and changed by what happened at Lockerbie that night. To families, friends, neighbours, loved ones, and all those caught up in the painful process of recovery, let us say to them: our admiration for you is unconditional. For the fortitude and resilience you have shown. For your determination never to give up. You have shown that terrorist acts cannot crush the human spirit. That is why terrorism will never prevail.”


Enda Kenny & David Cameron at grave of Willie Redmond MP  Photo: Paschal Donohoe via twitter

Enda Kenny & David Cameron at grave of Willie Redmond MP Photo: Paschal Donohoe via twitter

The improved relationship between the British and Irish governments was again shown today by the joint visit to some of the World War I battlefield sites in Flanders by the Taoiseach Enda Kenny and British Prime Minister David Cameron. They paid their respects at the grave of nationalist MP from the Irish Parliamentary Party, Major Willie Redmond.  He was commissioned as a captain in the Royal Irish Regiment and fought on the Western Front with the 16th (Irish) Division, in the winter of 1915 to 1916, and died during the Messines Ridge attack in June 1917.  Lise Hand reported on the visit for the Irish Independent.

Enda Kenny & David Cameron at grave of Willie Redmond MP  Photo: Irish Embassy Belgium via twitter

Enda Kenny & David Cameron sign book at grave of Willie Redmond MP Photo: via twitter

They also visited the Irish peace park at Messines, the first time the heads of the two governments have done so. Each laid a wreath close to the round tower that dominates the site. Mr Kenny and Mr Cameron also saw Wijtschate military cemetery, south of Ieper, where there is a memorial to the 16th (Irish) Division.

Wreaths laid at Irish Peace Park, Messines  Photo: Defence Forces via twitter

Wreaths laid at Irish Peace Park, Messines Photo: Defence Forces via twitter

A bronze plaque near to the entrance of the Island of Ireland Peace Park is inscribed with a Peace Pledge:

From the crest of this ridge, which was the scene of terrific carnage in the First World War on which we have built a peace park and Round Tower to commemorate the thousands of young men from all parts of Ireland who fought a common enemy, defended democracy and the rights of all nations, whose graves are in shockingly uncountable numbers and those who have no graves, we condemn war and the futility of war. We repudiate and denounce violence, aggression, intimidation, threats and unfriendly behaviour.

As Protestants and Catholics, we apologise for the terrible deeds we have done to each other and ask forgiveness. From this sacred shrine of remembrance, where soldiers of all nationalities, creeds and political allegiances were united in death, we appeal to all people in Ireland to help build a peaceful and tolerant society. Let us remember the solidarity and trust that developed between Protestant and Catholic Soldiers when they served together in these trenches.

As we jointly thank the armistice of 11 November 1918 – when the guns fell silent along this western front – we affirm that a fitting tribute to the principles for which men and women from the Island of Ireland died in both World Wars would be permanent peace.”  (from website)


Brian Fisher 1924-2013

Brian Fisher 1924-2013

Today we said our farewells to my uncle Brian Fisher, who lived in Raheny in Dublin. Although he spent almost all of his 89 years in the capital city, he was born in Derry, like my father Des, his older brother, and their younger sister Deirdre. They grew up in a house at West End Park, overlooking the Bogside. It was therefore very appropriate that Phil Coulter’s ‘The Town I Loved so Well’ was played by the musicians from Baldoyle (Aifreann Gaeilge) including my cousin’s wife Eilís as the remains were leaving the church to be brought to Glasnevin Crematorium. The Coulters were neighbours in West End Park. My father has previously described what it was like growing up in Derry in those days in the 1920s. No-one knows the real reason my grandparents Michael Louis Fisher and his wife Evelyn Kate moved to Dublin, but one possible explanation is that it was because it was a mixed marriage, my grandfather being a Catholic and my grandmother a Protestant. Her maiden name was Shier, a family that we have traced back to the Palatinate in Germany in 1600. Richard, her father, was in the RIC and is buried in the City cemetery in Derry. His forebears came to work on the estate in Adare in County Limerick, where many of the Palatine families settled such as the Bovenizers and the Switzers. Brian was vey interested in that element of our family history and had done much research which in recent years he shared with my father. One thing about Brian I never knew until the removal yesterday when the parish priest passed on the sympathy of Cardinal Desmond Connell, Archbishop Emeritus of Dublin. He had been a contemporary of Brian’s at Belvedere College SJ. Until then I thought I had been the first of our family to receive a Jesuit education! Brian’s career was at the Dublin Port and Docks Board (as it then was). Talking to my cousins yesterday I understand that in his role as Paymaster he sometimes found himself delivering wages in cash to unlikely places like the North Bull lighthouse in the days before electronic funds transfer! Some of his grandchildren read the prayers of the faithful at the Mass at St John the Evangelist in Kilbarrack/Foxfield parish. Along with his wife Nuala (Henderson) he played a leading role in the development in the 1980s of the new church and he also acted as a lay minister. One of the prayers was a beautiful summary of his life and what he stood for:

Brian grew up in Derry and then spent most of his life in Dublin. He was proud of his multi-cultural heritage and was open and respectful to all traditions on this small island. Lord, we pray for continuing efforts for peace and reconciliation in Ireland“.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dilís.


View from Knockmany towards Augher/Clogher  Photo: © Michael Fisher

View from Knockmany towards Augher/Clogher Photo: © Michael Fisher

The annual mulled wine walk and Christmas carols went ahead on Sunday afternoon organised by the Clogher Valley walking club and Knockatallon ramblers. The rain was still coming down as the group of over forty walkers set off from the lower car park. But thankfully there was a break in the weather after we reached the top of the hill and as we began the carols. This meant that we were able to enjoy a wonderful view on the return journey. The £5 registration fee collected will be donated to St Vincent de Paul and another local charity.

Carols at Knockmany  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Carols at Knockmany Photo: © Michael Fisher


Knockmany Walk December 2012

Knockmany Walk December 2012 Photo: © Michael Cullen

Just a quick note to apologise for the lack of daily posts recently. I was without a landline/broadband in Co. Monaghan for a week because a passing truck driver (apparently) brought down two 100m lengths of cable about half a mile away from me. Eircom had to order the replacement cable from the UK and so it was only yesterday that things got back to normal. I got a call from Vodafone on my mobile today to tell me that service had been restored. However I have been trying to shake off a chest infection so was not out and about yesterday.

Knockmany Walk December 2012 Photo: © Michael Cullen

Knockmany Walk December 2012 Photo: © Michael Cullen

This weekend I hope to take part in the annual mulled wine walk with Christmas carols at Knockmany, near Clogher and Augher in County Tyrone. We meet in the lower forest car park at 12:30pm. Clogher Valley walking club and Knockatallon ramblers organise the event.

Christmas carols & mulled wine at Knockmany  Photo: © Gregory Murphy

Christmas carols & mulled wine at Knockmany Photo: © Gregory Murphy

There is a small registration fee: the money is donated to two local charities. To give you an idea what it’s like and the lovely views that can be enjoyed of the surrounding countryside, here is a video made for the William Carleton Society of last year’s event.

Knockmany Walk December 2012 Photo: © Michael Cullen

Knockmany Walk December 2012 Photo: © Michael Cullen


Belfast Lions Club Message in a Bottle  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Belfast Lions Club Message in a Bottle Photo: © Michael Fisher

Message in a bottle: a simple and potentially life-saving idea which has been successfully promoted in recent years by Lions Clubs throughout Ireland and Britain. Belfast Lions Club attended for the third year running a winter safety event organised by the Policing and Community Safety Partnership at the City Hall. Around 200 bottles were distributed, the last of our current stock.

Belfast Lions Club Message in a Bottle  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Belfast Lions Club Message in a Bottle Photo: © Michael Fisher

Since it was re-formed the Club has handed out around 2500 bottles to people who have hopefully stored their medical details safely in a fridge at home, so that emergency services can get immediate access to this information if required. The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service along with ambulance service paramedics (they are often the first responders to an emergency call) and the PSNI have all recognised the value of the scheme and have given it their support.

Belfast Lions Club Message in a Bottle  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Belfast Lions Club Message in a Bottle Photo: © Michael Fisher

The Club hopes that as a result of contacts made at today’s event, it will hopefully be in a position to relaunch the scheme with the support of the PSNI community safety units and Belfast City Council early in the New Year. If your organisation is involved with care of the elderly or those living alone and you would like to have more details of the scheme, please contact us at the following address: and we will discuss your requirements.

Belfast Lions Club Message in a Bottle  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Belfast Lions Club Message in a Bottle Photo: © Michael Fisher

Our regular meetings are on the first Wednesday of the month at 7:30pm at the Wellington Park Hotel, Malone Road, Belfast. There is a meeting tonight but the next one will not be until Wednesday 8th January 2014. As well as the message in a bottle scheme, the Club is co-operating with Belfast City Council and Extern in the recycling of unwanted spectacles.

Collecting unwanted spectacles for recycling Photo: © Michael Fisher

Collecting unwanted spectacles for recycling Photo: © Michael Fisher

A box was provided at today’s event. A blue bin is located at each of the council’s four recycling centres specifically for old pairs of glasses. These are collected and sent to a central depot run by Chichester Lions Club in England. They are then recycled and can be reused in countries where there is a need for eye care in Asia and Africa. They have operated the scheme successfully for over thirty years.

Belfast Lions Club Message in a Bottle  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Belfast Lions Club Message in a Bottle Photo: © Michael Fisher

Tonight at our meeting of Belfast Lions Club we welcomed two expat Lions from Spain, who showed us the international aspect of our Lions community. Ray Jones, a Welshman and former member of Huntingdon Lions Club in England was accompanied by his wife Zelda, who is originally from Belfast. They told us about a number of activities their Club has undertaken.

Zelda & Ray Jones Vera Lions Club are presented with an Antrim Lions pennant by Lion President Karen McCormack  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Zelda & Ray Jones Vera Lions Club are presented with an Antrim Lions pennant by Lion President Karen McCormack                Photo: © Michael Fisher

They are staying in Lisburn and will be returning to Spain for Christmas. Both are charter members of Vera and District Lions Club which is near Almeria on the South-East coast of Spain. The Club started meeting in 2011 and had their charter dinner in 2012. At the end of the meeting Lion President Karen McCormick presented them with an Antrim Lions Club pennant and they presented us with one from Vera Lions Club. Delighted you dropped in to meet us and thank you for the encouragement you have given as we seek to recruit new members.

Charter Dinner Vera Lions Club, Spain (club website)

Charter Dinner Vera Lions Club, Spain (club website)


Message in a Bottle  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Message in a Bottle Photo: © Michael Fisher

One of the projects I had in mind when Belfast Lions Club was revived three years ago was the ‘Message in a Bottle’ scheme which I had been encouraged to adopt by Dan Hurst of Dún Laoghaire Lions. With their help, the Club took on the scheme as its first service project. It provides a potentially life-saving object, a bottle with a form inside carrying a person’s medical details, for those most in need, such as elederly people living on their own. The bottle is placed in the refrigerator and a special green sticker is stuck on the door and near the front door in order to alert emergency services such as paramedics that this important information is safely stored inside.  LCI emblem_2C_287+7406

Belfast Lions Club with the help of its parent club, Antrim Lions, acquired the bottles from England, using some of the funds raised during a table quiz in May 2011. In December 2011 the Club was invited to share the PSNI community safety stand at the Policing and Community Safety Partnership annual winter safety event at Belfast City Hall. The Club took its own stand at the same event the following year and in that period distributed 2,000 bottles to individuals either directly or with the help of groups such as the Cedar Foundation, Good Morning North Belfast and Good Morning West Belfast.

Message in a Bottle  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Message in a Bottle Photo: © Michael Fisher

This year the event takes place again at BELFAST CITY HALL from 10am to 1pm tomorrow, Wednesday 4th December. There will also be a meeting of Belfast Lions Club at 7:30pm at the Wellington Park hotel for anyone interested in hearing about our projects for 2014. These will hopefully include a new and extended phase of the message in a bottle project and fund-raising initiatives on behalf of Diabetes UK (NI) and Marie Curie cancer care (Great Daffodil Appeal). We also hope to continue to collect unwanted spectacles with the help of Belfast City Council and to send them to the depot operated by Chichester Lions Club in England for re-use in developing countries. Tomorrow at Belfast City Hall we will have a box for collecting pairs of unwanted glasses (but not the spectacle cases).

Message in a Bottle  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Message in a Bottle Photo: © Michael Fisher

My hopes for the Belfast Lions Club of which I am now Secretary were set out in a speech to the Multiple District 105 annual convention at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast in May 2011 when Councillor Pat Convery was Lord Mayor:

Michael Fisher, Belfast Lions Club & Cllr Pat Convery, Lord Mayor of Belfast (May 2011)

Michael Fisher, Belfast Lions Club & Cllr Pat Convery, Lord Mayor of Belfast (May 2011)

“Lord Mayor, Chairman of Council, International President, other distinguished guests, and fellow Lions. First I would like to thank District Governor Terence Mangan for asking me to perform this task. I am privileged to do so and it is with a certain amount of nervousness but also pride that I now welcome you, Councillor Pat Convery. Like yourself, I am a blow-in, who has been here only 26 years or so. Whereas you came from another part of NI, County Derry, I came from Dublin to cover the troubles for RTÉ News as a TV reporter. Both of us, I hope have come to admire this city which forty years ago was torn apart by violence and now seeks a new way forward in peaceful times. “Pro tanto quid retribuamus” is the motto: In return for so much, what shall we give back. A very appropriate one also for Lions, whose  function as a voluntary group is service to the community. That service was inspired in this city since 1958 by a businessman who many of you will remember, Bert Mason. He has a special place in Lions history as he went on to become International President in 1984. He was a founder member of the Belfast Lions Club, the third in this district to be chartered after Dublin and Cork. One of their first schemes was a meals on wheels service in East Belfast, which was later extended to other areas. From a small beginning a significant structure was built and lasted for over forty years.

Bert who came from Donaghadee passed to his eternal reward in 2007. It was his view that Lionism is one of the greatest unifying forces in the world, bringing together people from different cultures, politics and religions, all answering the call to serve.

I hope that spirit he spoke about will live on in the revived Belfast Lions Club. We were set up in February and our first public fundraising event was two days ago, a table quiz which has brought in over £1,000 to start our work of service. Various projects will now be considered such as the message in a bottle scheme and the collection of unused spectacles. There is also the service of a soup run performed at weekends by one of our members, helping the homeless, especially those from abroad. It’s the other face of Belfast but one to which this club must reach out if we are to live up to the early ideals of its predecessor. If there is any practical way in which we can work with Belfast City Council on some of the schemes then we would be interested to discuss this at some stage.

During your year of office you have focused on making Belfast a safe, clean, prosperous and a united city and attempted to revitalise it. I hope Belfast Lions will now be able to make a contribution to those important goals. I now call on you Lord Mayor to open formally the convention of multiple district 105, British Isles & Ireland”. 


Knockmore Céilí Band at the Fleadh  Photo: BBC (NI)

Knockmore Céilí Band Co. Fermanagh (2nd place) at the Fleadh Photo: BBC (NI)

One of the most successful events during London/Derry’s year as UK City of Culture, apart from tonight’s announcement of the Turner Prize winner, was the staging of the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, the first time this great traditional music competition was held in Northern Ireland. It was marked by a documentary on BBC Northern Ireland called ‘Fleadh‘, that was filmed, produced and directed by Sean McGuire with Paul McGuigan as Executive Producer.

McKenna Family, Clogher at Somers café Fardross  Photo: © Michael Fisher

McKenna Family, Clogher at Somers café Fardross Photo: © Michael Fisher

One of the groups appearing on the programme was the McKenna family from Clogher, who were competing in various categories. Peter plays the uilleann pipes. They are all very talented musicians, led by their father Martin. They performed during the William Carleton summer school at Somers café and caravan park at Fardross, Clogher, where they were joined by two pipers Frank Gildernew and Jim Brady as well as the Ulster-Scots Juvenile Pipe Band, who hold their practice sessions there.

Peter Mc Kenna (uilleann pipes) & his sister (guitar) at Somers café Fardross  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Peter Mc Kenna (uilleann pipes) & his sister (guitar) at Somers café Fardross Photo: © Michael Fisher

The BBC reported how every year hundreds of thousands of people gather for this festival of Irish traditional music, and for one week in August, Derry reverberated to the sound of fiddles, tin whistles and banjos. Organisers estimate that more than 400,000 people were at the fleadh over the course of the week, while 20,000 musicians were performing, whether on the big stages or in the streets and the city’s walls.

While the casual observer might have got swept up in the revelry, there were higher stakes involved for many of the musicians who had spent months and years fixated on winning a coveted all-Ireland title. It has been described as the Olympics of traditional music, and a new documentary goes behind the scenes to capture the pressure and tension at play when all those hours of practice come down to one nerve-wracking performance.

The programme charts the progress of a number of performers as they compete against hundreds of other hopefuls, first at county level, then at provincial level, in the hope of winning through to the main event. One of them is accordion player Justin Quinn, who likened the experience to “running down a hill faster than you feel comfortable”.

Justin grew up in Leeds but his parents are from Pomeroy in County Tyrone and Irish traditional music played a big part in his upbringing. While he won an all-Ireland title at the age of 14, he gave up the instrument when he went to university and did not return to it for another 20 years.

The competition itself is awful – having everything relying on five minutes, whether you forget the tune halfway through,” he says.

That pressure is echoed by accordion player Christopher Maguire, who says that by the time musicians have gone through provincial heats to reach the fleadh, everyone is of a high standard.

You’re in this massive room, and everyone’s watching you they’re like policemen for music, and you just have to perform your best. You have to know the song, you have to put feeling into the tune and imagine you’re singing it, you’re actually in the accordion,” he says.

While the world of traditional music is a close-knit community, friendships are put aside for a few hours while musicians do battle in front of the adjudicators. The programme’s producer and director, Sean McGuire, says the fleadh is about more than winning medals. Although there’s a competitive spirit, he says what he found in this world of music was friendship and camaraderie, along with  a lot of joy.


Christmas lights switched on in Monaghan with Rico's Groove  Photo: © Gregory Murphy

Christmas lights switched on in Monaghan with Rico’s Groove Photo: © Gregory Murphy

Plenty of seasonal music in County Monaghan today. The Christmas tree lights were switched on outside the Courthouse in Monaghan after three local school choirs performed for the crowd. I was watching the Gaelscoil group with particular interest as a niece was in it. Nice to hear carols as Gaeilge.



Earlier in Castleblayney, Gloria from Tydavnet performed ‘One Day at a Time’ along with Jingle Bells and Christmas songs for the residents of St Mary’s in Castleblayney. She sang a few numbers solo, and also encouraged some of the audience o join in. Then the Monaghan Gospel Choir under the musical direction of David Drum combined with her to bring some seasonal joy to the elderly.