After mediocre success with books about ‘Belfast City Cemetery’ and then ‘Dundonald Cemetery’, and with books called ‘2020’ (20 graves in each of 20 selected local cemeteries) and ‘A Hundred Houses of East Belfast’ in the pipeline, I decided to spend a fair chunk of lockdown writing another book about a Cemetery! The Cemetery this time is Roselawn. Until fairly recently, I had only a passing interest in Roselawn (with the exception of the grave of my much-missed maternal grandparents) due to the relative ‘newness’ of the Cemetery, only opening in 1954.
However, whilst researching my ‘A Hundred Houses of East Belfast’ book, I discovered that, amongst the thousands of graves there, not forgetting the thousands of memorial trees in Roselawn too, there are many fascinating headstones with, I think, associated fascinating stories.
So my daily lockdown exercise when Roselawn was open (obviously, although it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve climbed over a fence to get in / out of a cemetery!) consisted of walking round EVERY! headstone in the cemetery, photographing headstones of interest and then looking in to the story behind each for the purposes of a book.
So, after wearing down the soles of my shoes, I’ve come up with ‘Roselawn 2021’, consisting of 20 themed trails, each calling at 21 headstones. Below, for the purpose of this blog, I’ve selected one grave from each of the 20 trails. If you’d be interested in sponsoring a trail, or being kept in the loop prior to publication, my contact details and JustGiving page are at the end of this article.
Here goes (everything in quotes is wording from the respective headstones):
Trail 1 is the Quirky Trail, and the headstone I’ve selected for this is William Johnston, ‘a musician, an Elvis impressionist (Billy Fonda). Bill grew up on Donegall Road, The Village, Belfast. Laid to rest 17th December 2004’, with the Quirky trail also featuring Elmekki Berrabah ‘“Kebab Man” Returned To Allah On 12th April 2015’, and he is buried in the small Muslim section of the Cemetery.
Trail 2 is a World Tour and the selected grave is the McConnell grave with this headstone commemorating ‘Rev Patrick McConnell 10.6.1935 – 6.11.2005’ as well as his ‘beloved son Patrick ‘Ti Paddy’ 10.6.1962 – 5.4.1971 both interred in Haiti’. Interred in this grave is ‘Olga McConnell nee Trouillot devoted wife, mother and grandmere 19.5.1931 – 24.2.2017’. Reading between the lines, it seems that Olga was born in Haiti where she married Rev McConnell and gave birth to a son Patrick before moving to Northern Ireland following their respective deaths, and she appears to be the only interment in this grave.
Trail 3 is entitled Not From This Parish looking at the graves of people seemingly not originally from this neck of the woods. The featured grave in this trail is Dragana Mahaffy with this headstone erected ‘in loving memory of my devoted wife Dragana 18th August 1972 – 25th December 2018. Почивај у миру љубави моја’ which translates from Serbian as ‘Rest in peace my love’. I was talking to Gordon, Dragana’s husband from East Belfast, near her headstone recently and he informed me that his wife was an investigative journalist and author in Serbia, specializing in the Serbian Mafia, before moving to Northern Ireland, to quote Gordon, “from Belgrade to Belfast”. Tragically Dragana developed cancer shortly after moving to Belfast, dying unexpectedly from a blood clot on Christmas Day 2018 aged 46.
During this ongoing midlife crisis spent in cemeteries, people sometimes ask me where members of the local Chinese community are buried, so I now know the answer – usually Roselawn! Trail 4 features folks who I think are of Chinese origin. Ho Yuk Fong Chung is buried at plot W-3082 with her headstone, also featuring Chinese writing, commemorating ‘a dear sister, devoted friend and a loving mother Born on 26th November 1956 Died on Easter Sunday, 5th April 2015. Generous of heart, constant in faith, her deeds pure, her words kind, she gave willingly, never took’.
Trail 5 is Women Only which includes one of the most fantastic woman ever, my Granny Craig, as well as Selina Blanchflower, Danny & Jackie Blanchflower’s footballing mother, but the woman I’m featuring here is Helen Lewis, MBE. Born in 1916 into a German-speaking Jewish family in Trutnov in the Kingdom of Bohemia, Helen survived two ‘selections’ by Dr Josef Mengele, and was later sent to Stutthof concentration camp in northern Poland. When the war ended, she returned to Prague where she learnt of her husband’s death during a forced march, whilst her mother Elsa Katz, who had been deported in 1942, had died at Sobibór extermination camp and is commemorated on this headstone as 10.08.1893 – 1942 (?) A victim of the Holocaust with no known resting place’. After her marriage to Harry Lewis in Prague in 1947, the couple moved to Belfast where Helen began to work as a choreographer, also teaching modern dance. Her book ‘A Time to Speak’ was published in 1992 and was translated into several languages, and then adapted for the theatre by the late, great Sam McCready. In the 2001 Birthday Honours, Helen Lewis was awarded an MBE for her services to contemporary dance.
In the interests of equality, Trail 6 is Men Only! which includes Ian Ogle, beaten and stabbed eleven times by up to five men near his home at Cluan Place in early 2019, but the grave I’ve chosen to feature in this Trail is Patrick (Paddy) Joseph Devlin, not a man I expected to find in Roselawn! Devlin was a founding member of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), a former Stormont MP, and a member of the 1974 Power Sharing Executive. Described as a ‘relentless campaigner against sectarianism’, Devlin had once been a member of the IRA but later renounced physical force republicanism to work at transcending sectarian differences.
Trail 7 is the Sports trail, which features George Best (and Bob Bishop, the man credited with discovering George: “I think I’ve found you a genius”) and Mervyn Cotter, a former Mr Universe who worked for Harland & Wolff, but the grave that this Ards fan living in Glentoran territory has chosen to feature is Sammy Pavis. Born in Ballymacarrett, after signing for Glentoran in the early 1960s where he won an Irish League medal, Pavis was snapped up by Linfield, scoring 237 goals in 260 games for the Blues in five seasons. Pavis was also the Northern Ireland snooker champion for a time after he retired from football, with his headstone containing the Linfield FC logo with the word ‘Legend’ below, as well as a snooker table with the words ‘N.I & All Ireland Champion’.
Trail 8 features 21 headstones that feature the logos of Football Clubs. In the absence of any Ards or Norwich logos!, I’ve chosen to feature Grzegorz Lozynski’s headstone which includes the logos of both Górnik Zabrze and Real Madrid. Górnik Zabrze is one of the most successful Polish football clubs in history, with this headstone stating ‘Zawsze bedziemy cie kochac’, i.e. ‘we will always love you’.
Trail 9 features those who served in the World Wars, and the chosen grave here is Edgar Lean, with a plaque on this simple wooden cross reading ‘Born-Belfast 20.01.1896 Died-Belfast 17.11.1971. WW1-age 19 Rifleman-Royal Irish Rifles The Somme-Ypres 11.11.1915 – 03.03.1919. WW2-age 43 Gunner-Royal Artillery North Africa (Tobruk-El Alamein) 21.09.1939 – 10.9.1945’.
Trail 10 features those who served in the Military including Sergeant Conor Binnie killed in Afghanistan in May 2009, but the featured grave is John Holmberg ‘Sergeant Major US Army Korea Vietnam Jun 7 1931 Nov 19 1992 Bronze Star Medal’, showing that people from this neck of the woods have served in all areas of the world.
The start of the second half of the book looks at the legacy of ‘The Troubles’ with Trail 11 featuring members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary including Victor Arbuckle, the first member of the Force to die during the Troubles, but the headstones I’m featuring on this occasion are Sergeant James William Blakely and Inspector William Henry Murtagh. Both are recorded on their respective headstones as ‘killed in the execution of his duty’ on 6 February 1976 – shot dead from behind by terrorist gunmen while on foot patrol on the Cliftonville Road – and they are buried in neighbouring graves.
Trail 12 features those Troubles Victims Shot during the Troubles, with 1972 being an especially brutal year. The featured grave for this Trail is the Warnock grave which includes Robert James Warnock ‘died 13th September 1972 aged 18’ after he was shot dead by an off-duty Royal Ulster Constabulary member during an attempted armed robbery at the Hillfoot Bar, Glen Road, Castlereagh. Also buried in this grave is his brother ‘William (Billy) died 16th October 1972 aged 15’, knocked down by an Army Armoured Personnel Carrier, while at a barricade during street disturbances on the Newtownards Road, Belfast. Also commemorated on this headstone is ‘their broken-hearted mother Mary (May) died 25th August 1977’, and ‘Stephen murdered 13th September 2002 aged 35’. Warnock, a member of the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) was shot dead by the Red Hand Commando (RHC) as he sat in a car in Circular Road, Newtownards.
Trail 13 features those Troubles Victims as a result of Bombings. On 21 July 1972, also known as Bloody Friday, the IRA detonated at least twenty bombs in the space of eighty minutes, most within a half hour period, in Belfast killing nine people and injuring 130. Killed in the explosion at Oxford Street bus station were 15-year-old William (Billy) Crothers, and William (Billy) Irvine aged 18, with both buried in Roselawn and featured in Trail 13.
Trail 14 is also Troubles-related, and features those involved in Paramilitary organisations, with the featured grave in this Trail being Tommy Herron. A leading member of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), Herron was kidnapped in September 1973, and died by one gunshot to the head, with his body found in a ditch near Drumbo. Herron received a paramilitary funeral, presided over by Reverend Ian Paisley, attended by an estimated 25,000 mourners.
Numerous headstones in Roselawn commemorate loved ones killed as the result of an accident, so Trail 15 is entitled Accidents, with the featured grave that of Lorraine Gibson who, along with her daughters Angela (9) and Julie (7) died in the Maysfield Leisure Centre fire on 14 January 1984. Three other people died in the fire, with the blaze breaking out in a storeroom, with the victims overcome by toxic fumes released by smoldering gymnastic mats. Horrific.
Trail 16 is entitled Celtic Cousins and features 21 headstones that mention either Ireland or Scotland. The featured grave is James Cook commemorated on his headstone as the ‘Laird of Lochaber’. The titles ‘Laird, Lord or Lady of Glencoe and Lochaber’ are trademarked Highland titles available for purchase online.
Trail 17 looks at Groups, Organisations & Workplaces with the chosen grave belonging to Ernest Harris with the logo for the Maple Leaf Social & Rec Club featuring at the top of this headstone. Many readers will remember the Maple Leaf Club on Park Avenue, originally a meeting spot for emigrants heading to Canada on the first transatlantic flights from Belfast – hence the maple leaf in the name.
Trail 18 features 21 Ministers with the selected grave being Rev Dr Roy Magee, O.B.E. Minister of Dundonald Presbyterian church from 1975, Rev Magee became actively involved with a cross-community alliance of clergymen and community workers and, from 1990, worked in harness with Archbishop Robin Eames, the Church of Ireland primate, during protracted, private discussions with the Combined Loyalist Military Command which, ultimately, culminated in the 1994 cessation of violence.
Trail 19 is entitled Titles and features 21 graves of Sirs & MBEs including the legendary Tommy Patton, but the grave I’m featuring in this blog is William (Billy) McKnight, MBE recorded on his headstone as a ‘Teacher and musician [and] Beloved husband and father’. McKnight was awarded the MBE in 1968 when Principal of Strandtown Primary School, Belfast, and was living at 227 Kings Road, Belfast when he died in 1984.
Trail 20 is entitled And Finally …. and contains nice sentiments written on headstones (not that people are going to write bad sentiments!), with the featured grave being Susan Jayne Wilson. As well as the image of Wilson, who died in August 2007 aged 57, the headstone contains what seems to have been a letter to her family penned by her: ‘Goodbye my family, my life is past. I loved you to the very last. Weep not for me but courage take, Love each other for my sake. For those you love don’t go away. They walk beside you every day’. Powerful!
Thank you for reading this article, and I hope you managed to avoid nodding off! If you’d like to support this Roselawn 2021 book, you can do so via www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/roselawn2021, e-mail me on firstname.lastname@example.org or call me on 07596 603 463.
Associate member, History Hub Ulster