Northern Ireland

NI weekly papers: Mighty Maud, reckless riots and big losers

Ballymena Guardian Image copyright Ballymena Guardian
Newry Reporter Image copyright Newry Reporter
Mid-Ulster Mail Image copyright Mid-Ulster Mail
Impartial Reporter Image copyright Impartial Reporter
Ulster Gazette Image copyright Ulster Gazette
Derry Journal Image copyright Derry Journal

From Northern Ireland's oldest citizen, through to its youngest rioters, this week's local papers are full of people who really don't act their age.

Let's kick off in Londonderry, where it all kicked off this week, with reports of children as young as eight throwing petrol bombs during nightly disorder.

A senior policeman tells the Derry Journal that violent dissident republicans are using "low level rioting by young people" as an opportunity to target his officers.

Supt Gordon McCalmont was speaking after dissidents hit the city's walls with automatic gunfire and threw two improvised bombs within 24 hours.

At the time of going to press, Friday's Derry Journal says 132 petrol bombs had been thrown in the city during "five days of reckless vandalism".

The paper points out the violence is taking place just as the city tries to welcome tourists for the Foyle Maritime Festival.

'Sprightly centenarian'

Reaching your 100th birthday almost guarantees that your photo will appear in your local paper, but this week's Ballymena Guardian goes nine better.

It reports that a lively Ballymena pensioner has turned 109, becoming the oldest person in Northern Ireland.

Maud Nicholl, or "Mighty Maud" as the paper dubs her, is described as a "sprightly" centenarian and a keen gardener.

She lives in her own home but gets some support from care workers.

Image copyright Ballymena Guardian
Image caption Maud Nicholl gets a card from the Queen every year on her birthday

She celebrated her big day with a tea party in the town's Tullyglass Hotel, surrounded by her family and friends.

The paper reports that the birthday girl arrived in style in a white Jaguar, after "getting her hair done specially for the occasion".

'Dancing tractors'

The Guardian also looks ahead to the Ulster Festival of Steam and Transport in Ballymena later this month.

Intriguingly, the event includes a dancing tractor display, which is returning "by popular demand".

And if it wasn't extraordinary enough that tractors can dance, the paper says there is a new twist to this year's display, but "you have to come along to see the surprise".

There are more weighty matters in the Newry Reporter, which says a group of 50 hospital workers have lost almost 25st between them.

Image copyright Newry Reporter
Image caption A midwives' weight-loss competition has delivered great results in Newry

Staff at Daisy Hill Hospital's maternity unit started up their "biggest loser" challenge in May, with a £100 prize for whoever lost the most poundage over six weeks.

Their exercise programme ranged from boot camp sessions to Burlesque dance classes, but for a few of members of the unit, it was very hard labour indeed.

"Some of the people in our challenge hadn't walked up the stairs in years. They were absolute beginners," midwife Áine Fegan tells the paper.

She added that one of her colleagues broke down in tears after completing a 2.5 mile (4km) walk.

Dramatic development

On its front page, the Reporter outlines proposals for a new theatre and conference centre to be built next to Newry City Hall.

Image copyright Newry Reporter
Image caption An artistic impression of Newry's proposed theatre on the bank of the Clanrye River

It has viewed tender documents which envisage that the new facility, on the footprint of the existing Arts Centre, could be completed by 2021.

The Mid-Ulster Mail leads with a health watchdog's claim that vulnerable care users were "placed at risk" by the Extra Care agency, which provides domiciliary care in people's own homes.

It was criticised over a "substantial number of missed or late" house calls in Cookstown and Magherafelt and was slapped with two warnings by the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority.

The SDLP's Patsy McGlone says many people are "completely reliant" on house calls for help with getting out of bed, bathing and taking medication.

Extra Care apologised and said it has since resolved its recruitment problems.

Treasure trove

It might be old news to some, but a 1917 edition of the Mid-Ulster Mail features prominently in this week's paper.

The broadsheet was among a list of historical items unearthed in a derelict cottage in Cookstown by local photographer Rebecca Brownlie.

She travels around Northern Ireland capturing images of abandoned cottages and documenting their contents, and the artefacts are about to go on public display.

She salvaged bags of old coins, war journals, ration books and newspapers dating back to 1890, as well as Victorian-era clothing still in the wardrobe of the Cookstown ruin.

The Impartial Reporter reveals a major rift in the ranks of St John Ambulance in County Fermanagh, with claims that 14 volunteers have resigned in the last three months.

Image caption Does St John Ambulance need emergency intervention in County Fermanagh?

The paper understands some resignations are linked to the charity's treatment of veteran volunteer, Pam Gunn, during a reorganisation of its Western Area branch.

Mrs Gunn says over the last 25 years she "regularly put 80-hour weeks" into her voluntary work but quit in April, complaining the charity was "very insensitive" over a bereavement.

"My husband was dying of terminal pancreatic cancer and my son had just been diagnosed with cancer, but St John didn't want to hear my sob story" she tells the paper.

She quit claiming the charity failed to take account of her personal circumstances during a meeting about management problems in the Enniskillen division.

St Johns Ambulance head office said it was not aware of the meeting and could not comment.

The paper also has an insight into why County Fermanagh could be struggling to recruit local doctors.

Students from the county made up just 3% of the total number of Northern Ireland residents admitted to study at Queen's University's medical faculty over the past five years.

"Unless people are born and reared in this area, it's very hard to entice them," says Independent Councillor Sorcha McAnespy, who describes the figures as "worrying".

Grave discovery

In Armagh, a local historian has uncovered the city's links to the 20th Century poet George Russell - better known as AE.

The writer and painter, who was a close friend of the poet WB Yeats, had family ties to County Armagh and was baptised in Lurgan.

However, historian Brian McKernan traced AE's grandfather to an address in Armagh city, and discovered the poet's family plot in the nearby St Mark's Church of Ireland cemetery.

"This adds real strength to our picture of Russell as a 'Northerner'," Mr McKernan tells the Ulster Gazette.