Bishop Daly recalls his ‘great friend’ Carson

The late Frank Carson.

The late Frank Carson.

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The retired Bishop of Derry Dr Edward Daly last night paid tribute to his “great friend” Frank Carson who passed away this week after a long illness.

Dr. Daly, who first met the Belfast-born comedian in the early 1960s, said he had “lost a friend who always made me laugh.”

His Eminence Cardinal Theodore McCarrick attends a reception at St Eugene's Cathedral with, from left, the Most Rev. Dr. Francis Lagan, auxillary Bishop of Derry, the Most Rev. Dr. Seamus Hegarty, Bishop of Derry, and the Most Rev. Dr. Edward Daly, retired Bishop of Derry. (0903PG72)

His Eminence Cardinal Theodore McCarrick attends a reception at St Eugene's Cathedral with, from left, the Most Rev. Dr. Francis Lagan, auxillary Bishop of Derry, the Most Rev. Dr. Seamus Hegarty, Bishop of Derry, and the Most Rev. Dr. Edward Daly, retired Bishop of Derry. (0903PG72)

Famous for his sayings “it’s a cracker” and “it’s the way I tell ‘em”, Carson (85) came to prominence in the 1960s after winning TV’s ‘Opportunity Knocks’.

However, before his rise to fame via television, he was already well known in Derry for his role in various shows at St. Columb’s Hall.

It was at this time that a young Fr. Edward Daly made his acquaintance.

The retired Bishop recalled last night: “I first met Frank in 1962 when, among my many duties, I was looking after the provision of entertainment at St. Columb’s Hall.

“Along with the late James McCafferty and Don O’Doherty, I was tasked with organising regular Sunday night shows at the Hall. We decided that we’d try to attract some big names from England, Ireland and the United States.

“We also knew we would need a resident comedian and, on Don’s recommendation, we initially booked Frank for three concerts in 1962 - he was still there in 1969!

“Between 1962 and 1969, he performed at between 80 and 100 sell-out shows, including pantomime seasons.

“I think it’s important to point out that, for much of this period, Frank was still working as an ornamental plasterer by trade. For example, a typical day for him could see him getting up in the morning in Belfast, travelling to Newry where he was working, finishing work at 5 p.m., travelling to Derry to perform before returning to Belfast. And, all the time, with a smile on his face.”

Bishop Daly says the comedian “brought a lot of happiness to people in Derry during tough times.”

“He was a tonic to Derry when it most needed it. Life in Derry in the 1960s could be tough going. Morale was low and jobs were scarce. Frank was always there to raise people’s morale.

“That’s one of my outstanding memories of Frank - no matter how down you were feeling, you always left his company in better form. He just had that knack of raising your spirits.”

Dr. Daly says he last spoke to Mr. Carson a fortnight ago and said a prayer with him just at the weekend.

“He wasn’t able to speak on Sunday but I said a prayer with him while we were on the phone,” he said. “To be honest, it was the first time I ever conversed with him and he didn’t come back with a gag.

“Frank had a great faith which was very important to him. He was an extremely good living person. The amount of work he did for charity is amazing.

“He was extraordinarily generous. He raised funds for many, many charities - including our very own Foyle Hospice. Almost every Christmas, I received a cheque from him made out to the Foyle Hospice. He was a very charitable person.”

Mr. Carson’s family plan to bring him back to Belfast for burial on Saturday, March 3.