25.1.05

Belfast Telegraph

Why Lennon took time to call Finaghy
Beatle's half-sister recalls living in Ulster for documentary


By Eddie McIlwaine
25 January 2005

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The half-sister of legendary Beatle John Lennon reminisced today about the time she lived in Belfast where she was married and recalled how John used to phone her at her home in Finaghy.

Julia Baird (57), who is now involved in a project to build a hotel in her home town of Liverpool which will be called The Hard Day's Night and will be a shrine to the Fab Four, declared: "My stay in Belfast was the happiest period of my life.

"My first child was born at the old Jubilee Maternity Hospital and I loved to go for walks in Tollymore Forest where I found a pool to go swimming in.

"Mind you, there were times when I got homesick for Liverpool and went down to the docks to gaze across the sea."

Julia, maiden name Dykins, takes part in A Hard Day's Fight - a BBC2 documentary tonight which recounts the battle to build the 120-bedroom hotel.

The programme was made by BBC Northern Ireland for the network series Trouble at the Top and is produced and directed by Alison Millar.

Julia, whose marriage to Belfastman Allen Baird, now a probation officer in Liverpool, came to an end after they had been together for 16 years, recalled: "We met in 1965 when I was 18 and we were Redcoats at a Butlin's holiday camp in Wales together.

"We were both students, Allen was studying at Queen's University in Belfast.

"It was love at first sight - I thought I had died and gone to heaven when we were together.

"Allen and I had a civil marriage ceremony at Fermanagh House in Belfast in 1968. Everyone wanted us to have a great do in Liverpool with hundreds of guests, so we slipped away to Belfast and did it quietly.

"I loved my in-laws, who were special people - my father-in-law Alex is now sadly gone - and I can remember John ringing me in Belfast to ask me about a wedding present. We were in touch again when he heard that I was having my first baby Nicky in Belfast in 1970.

"And I was still in Belfast the last time I spoke to him before he went away to America."

Eventually Julia, who was a special needs teacher, and Allen left Belfast to set up home in Liverpool where their other two children were born.

She now lives in Chester and gets involved in cultural exchange work for Liverpool.

"During my years in Belfast we lived at Knock as well as in Finaghy and I used to love getting out in the countryside. I remember going to Tollymore with my new baby in 1970 and I loved the seclusion and the privacy.

"Eventually though we decided it was time to move because of the Troubles. I have a great affection for Allen's family and I plan to make a trip back to Belfast soon.

"John's death in 1980 was a terrible blow, but now this hotel in which I have a half-share will be my way of paying homage to him. I enjoyed working with Alison Millar on the documentary."

Teacher Bill Heckle and taxi driver Dave Jones set up Cavern City Tours in 1985 for the benefit of Beatles fans visiting Liverpool in the wake of Lennon's death.

In 1991 they bought the old Cavern Club where the Beatles career began and then, joined by George Guinness and Ray Johnston, launched plans to build the hotel next door.

A Hard Day's Night is the story of their battle to overcome many obstacles and the part played in the project by Lennon's sister.

Hard Day's Fight, produced by BBC Northern Ireland for the series, is on BBC2 tonight at 9.50pm.

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