John McCullagh July 8, 2003
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What about this man?!!

You can have your Pat Jennings, Peter McParlands, Ronan Raffertys or whoever. You can even have John Mitchel. I’ll take Banjo as our all-time greatest hero, any day.  Banjo is THE MAN.

A Barcroft working class lad, he trumpets his origins and proudly advertises his home town and its people, and the wealth of natural beauty and mountain peaks in our District to challenge any aspiring mountaineer.

Perhaps you are too young to remember the celebrations in 1953 over Hunt’s team’s first successful conquest of Everest, when Sherpa Tensing and Edmund Hiliary were the first climbers to set foot on top of the world. It went on for weeks, in the British press. The difference now is that Banjo, under leader Richard Dougan of Markethill and another Irish lad, and Jamie Magennis of New Zealand, accomplished this marvellous feat on a shoestring budget, without Sherpas (who often haul others up the hardest faces) and by the treacherous and precipitous North Face. Up there you are into the jet stream, hurricanes of over 100 mph that whipped away oxygen tanks and several tents from the successful Irish team.

Banjo stresses the team effort. He won’t take all the glory. He got little enough as part of the team a decade ago when Dawson Stelfox made the summit. I was at a few of the celebration functions. What amazed me most was Banjo’s availability. Other celebrities arrive late to a fanfare, and exit swiftly, ears ringing with hurrahs.

Banjo was always there first, stayed till last and had a slightly perplexed look as if wondering what all the fuss was about. Interviewed on stage with Mayor Patterson, he told Gene Fitzpatrick of his bewilderment at people’s reactions. A neighbour stopped him on Barcroft Hill to ask for his autograph.

‘Come down off it’, he quipped. ‘It’s just me. Banjo. What are you going on about autographs for? I was here yesterday. I’ll be here tomorrow. ‘

He will too. Wherever he is, and he has a life’s adventuring in front of him, he’ll always be ours for the keeps. Who else could you say that about? I’m just sorry I’m not from Barcroft!! He personally thanked everyone, even for mild good wishes. And despite the fact that he’s still heavily in debt over under-investment in the Everest Expedition. Well, who’d have believed that a wee Newry lad would bring us all such honour?

After the Town Hall concert, he had the audience funnelled down one staircase so that he could personally thank each individual and shake hands. It flashed across my mind that I’d have loved it, if my own father could have lived to see one of our own fulfil this incredible ambition. Then I thought of Eddie, Banjo’s deceased father. And of Phyllis, his aunt and my great friend. And of Tommy Jones who taught him boxing. And of the Everest-top stones he brought home to pile on the graves of these people so dear to him. And of his moving tribute before a packed Town Hall to Rose, his mother.

No wonder the town’s usual pack of publicity seekers are straining to be photographed with him, to bask in his reflected glory! These last are my words, not his. His patience has no end. Along with his good humour and humility. I hope those others will be quick to contribute to his future expedition costs.

After all that praise, how about a wee exclusive interview for our next edition, Banjo? Anyways, back to the Concert ……….

Straight away, full marks to Micky Magill and the organisers of this excellent Concert in celebration of Terence (Banjo) Bannon’s conquest of Everest 2003. I admit I’d not have been there but for Banjo. What a treat I’d have missed! It was the best night’s fun I’ve had with my shoes on for many’s the long year! Financially the beneficiary will be Banjo, and for that reason I was disappointed to see a few empty seats. In every other sense, the beneficiaries were those who had opted (for no reward) to help or participate, or those who chose to attend. We were royally entertained non-stop for over two and a half hours with a bewildering array of talent, amateur and professional. The professionals included The Miracles (an excellent Tyrone rock group), Luv Bug (other Newry heroes of mine, for their talent, musical longevity, and dedication to their working class Newry roots) the truly amazing James McPeake (what about that Nessun Dorma? I was transfixed!) Fil Campbell (late of Tyrone, now Rostrevor), the inimitable Danny Doran, Kathy Colgan (of 3D) … the list goes on, and now I realize I should not have begun for I’ll be castigated for those I omitted. Oh, I must note my neighbour and friend, Oonagh Cassidy, who hopes shortly to release a CD, who triumphed over a faulty mike, sang three numbers, one of which, Ring a Roses, she wrote herself and had my wife close to tears with her rendition. Then there was the Top Talent and amateur acts. Thanks to the soundman, whose hand I shook but whose name I do not know: to Mark Hughes and all at the Council who helped: To Rosalind Sheridan and those other creative people who did not appear on stage but whose vision was so well enacted there by others: to all who distilled such a judicious mix of song, dance, humorous sketch, clown, variety and comedy show and musical entertainment. The Best of Showband meets the Best of Top Talent. One 13 year old lass enthralled with her a capella singing. I think maybe the clowns were best. Or the Irish dancers? But that’s until I remember the Meadow, the Linenhall, and the Barcroft troupes. I kept screaming in support of Barcroft, until I remembered that just because Banjo was from there didn’t mean that I was! Those clowns were there to entertain us, but did you see them?! Every single one was having the time of their lives. What can they do again to beat that? But it takes hard work on the part of their choreographer. Thank you.

So who did benefit most? Was it Banjo? The clowns? The town? The acts? The audience?

I think I did.

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