Eamonn Holmes has opened up on how North Belfast is ‘the fabric of his life’ and how the Northern Irish “are tremendous people, people”.
The TV presenter spoke to Belfast Live at the launch of the New Care Zone Mobile Unit in North Belfast at the weekend – which is set to transform how health and wellbeing services are delivered across the area.
He explained how strong people from North Belfast are and how those from NI “are blessed in some spooky way of this gift of being sociable”.
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Eamonn said Cavehill is his “favourite site on earth” and when he looks up at it, he knows he’s back home.
He told Belfast Live: “People always say to me… ‘And you used to be from here’, and I am from here. My mother lives across the road. This is the fabric of my life.
“All my brothers live here. All my brothers live within a mile and a half of here, all my family, cousins, we are close knit.
“I am always back so it doesn’t really ever feel strange, it’s just where you feel you should be. Believe me, I wouldn’t be working in England if I could get that calibre of job here.
“I would never have been. My mother rang me a few weeks ago and she said to me, ‘I couldn’t sleep last night’, she’s 93. I said, ‘What’s wrong mum, what’s wrong mum?’, and she never phones me, I always have to phone her.
“She said, ‘I just couldn’t sleep, I had this question in my head, why did you, why did you?’
“I said, ‘Why, did I what?’, and she said, ‘Why did you move to England?’ I said, ‘Mum, it was 36, 37 years ago, what are you talking about?’
“She said, ‘None of my other sons felt the need to leave’. She said, ‘If you had of stayed, you could have been like that wee boy Paul Clark’. He’s older than me. I think mum would have saw that as a success for me.”
Eamonn added how important community is in the North Belfast area.
“North Belfast people, what happens is that you develop a skin to get through things, you develop an inner strength, you make do with what you’ve got. Community is very important, it has always been.
“You don’t have to be bound by your community, you don’t always have to stay there, not move or go away, but you are certainly very heavily influenced by your community.
“I’m not one of those people who disowns my accent, disowns who I am or where I am from. That’s me,” the 62-year-old added.
At the launch of the New Care Zone Mobile Unit on Saturday, Eamonn said he “couldn’t not be involved”.
Eamonn at the Cathedral Quarter, Belfast
(Image: Eamonn Holmes)
“I do see it. All of those people out there, they know my brothers, they know my father, it happens to me all the time. My father is dead, he’s now dead 31 years and everybody remembers him.
“I feel very strongly that I’m doing it for everybody. What else would you be doing? They don’t have anyone else to call upon,” he added.
The broadcaster added how “he’s above politics”.
“Always with Northern Ireland, I don’t care what religion you are, I don’t care where you are from, I will be there to represent the people from Northern Ireland. I suppose I’m above politics, which is good, people don’t see me as one religion or the other or anything. I’m just Eamonn, Eamonn from Belfast.
“There are very few things in life that I’m sure about… but I do know I’m a Belfast man. I feel very, very strongly that I’m a Belfast man, whatever that means.”
With Northern Ireland currently having no Executive, the dad-of-four said ‘tough decisions have to be made’.
“I think there’s things that we’ve got to evolve with.
“There are certain things we’ve got to get used to. I think we need a figure head for people to unite behind.
“We need some sort of figure head that’s non-political.
“We want somebody who is beyond politics,” Eamonn explained.
He added: “The anniversary of the Troubles, we look back, you just don’t want that again.
“We are all very jolly, jolly, full of the craic, but you know, underneath it all, there can be scars. But one thing I definitely know, I am absolutely convinced about, absolutely, is that we as working class people in Northern Ireland have much more in common than we do that divides us.”
Eamonn also spoke of the pressure of his job and how his proudest achievement is being able to stay relevant.
“You feel the pressure all of the time, I wouldn’t moan about too much but I would just say it’s tough. You just have to keep ahead of the game, it’s like being an athlete.
“I am a generous person in the terms of I am always there to help people, giving people advice, I’ve always mentored people, I’ve never been threatened by that. But then again that’s my Belfast thing, I’ve learnt from my father.”
Eamonn Holmes OBE meeting staff and volunteers at The People’s Kitchen
(Image: Justin Kernoghan/Belfast Live)
Eamonn added how naïve he was about the television industry in his late teens.
“I refused a job at UTV when I was 19 and I said it wasn’t enough [money].
“And they threw me out, they basically shouted at me and said, ‘No one has ever sat on that chair and refused a job here at Ulster Television, let alone being 19, so get the hell out, who do you think you are?’
“I’m walking out and the secretary said to me, ‘Why’d you not take the job?’, I said, ‘I may be 19 but I’m not stupid, £44.44 a week? To work in here for that? I said I’m not stupid, taking advantage of me like that’.
“She said, ‘That’s not a week, that’s a day’. It was a salary of £10,000 a year. How privileged was that.
“Needless to say I backtracked and got the job back. I never even contemplated that you could earn £44.44 a day.
“Sometimes, the harder you work, the luckier you get, but you need luck in the first place. I’ve been very thankful for a wonderful education and stable parents,” Eamonn said.
The presenter also discussed current suicide rates in the area.
Eamonn and Ruth with the Belfast man’s son Declan, daughter-in-law Jenny and granddaughter Emilia
(Image: Eamonn Holmes/Instagram)
“There is a terrible suicide rate. My wife’s sister committed suicide two years ago and that is a big thing that has damaged our family very badly. It has caused a lot of pain.
“You just want to look and say, ‘Why North Belfast?'” Eamonn explained.
The Belfast man became a grandfather for the first time last year when his eldest son Declan became father to a baby girl.
“I never wanted to be [a grandfather], I never had any desire to be, I never thought I was old enough, but suddenly you become very old.
“I am so happy for my son. It’s made me realise how quickly it’s all gone, he’s 33, and I was his age when I had him. He is just so loving to Emilia and it’s lovely to see,” Eamonn said.
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