George (87) can’t stop singing as he lifts the cherished ‘Claret Jug’


AT the grand old age of 87, George Shepherd simply can’t stop singing. He’s been in the choir at Markethill Presbyterian Church for a staggering 75 years and in Portadown Male Voice Choir for 45 years.

And the male choir thinks so much of him that the members voted him their ‘Man of the Year’ presenting him with the perpetual Bertie Shields Memorial Trophy, a sort of replica of the Open Golf Championship Claret Jug. The trophy reflects the love of golf by the late Bertie, who was manager of the town’s Northern Bank branch and choir president.

Chairman Alan Turtle handed over the silverware at the choir’s annual dinner, and nobody was more surprised than George, former sheep farmer and retired official from the Department of Agriculture.

“I’ve always loved music,” he said. “I joined Markethill Presbyterian Church Choir as a boy soprano when I was 12, and when my voice broke I began singing tenor and later on, bass. I joined the male choir along with Charlie Huddleston from Markethill in 1967, sang second tenor then and after that moved down through the baritones to the bass section.” He’s one of four Markethill men in the ranks, along with Jim Mehaffey (first tenor), Bertie Hooks (second tenor) and Richard Sterritt (bass).

“I enjoy the craic and the singing,” said George. “Gordon Speers, the conductor, keeps us on our toes and I can usually keep up!”

Another musical claims to fame is that he played the trombone for 50 years in Hamiltonsbawn Silver Band, giving up about 20 years ago when marching and blowing the instrument simultaneously became a wee bit of a strain. He’s the only surviving founder member of the band.

And back in the dim and distant past, he was part of The Gosford Singers in Markethill - an octette that included his two sons Philip and Paul, now a doctor and lecturer respectively. He and his wife Gertrude also have two daughters.

Said Alan Turtle, “Nobody deserved the trophy more than George. He’s an absolutely gentleman - and no mean singer - and all members of the choir have a great respect for him.”