John’s a Colonel of the Blue Grass State

John Tate with certificate confirming he is Kentucky Colonel
John Tate with certificate confirming he is Kentucky Colonel

Distinguished, world-respected astronomist (and American Civil War expert) John Tate has a new title to his name – that of ‘Kentucky Colonel’.

It’s an honour given to people throughout the world who have contributed to their community in various educational and charity fields.

And Birches man John – who is proud to live near the ancestral home of Thomas Jonathon ‘Stonewall’ Jackson – joins a disparate and distinguished list of people who hold the title of ‘Colonel’ from the famous ‘Blue Grass’ state.

They include former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnston, Winston Churchill, astronaut John Glenn, Colonel Sanders (of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame), Muhammed Ali, Elvis Presley, George Clooney…

“It’s certainly heady company,” said John (62), a retired lecturer in astronomy and archeoastronomy from Armagh Planetarium, who has a global reputation in the subjects. His travels have taken him all over America – to Washington, the Space Centre in Florida, Richmond in Virginia, Atlanta and Houston, filming various eclipses of the sun. He also viewed eclipses in Egypt, Australia and Indonesia. The last-named was a spectacular total eclipse in 1983, which stands out most in John’s mind. And he’s a personal friend of Colonel James Irwin of Apollo 15 fame.

He’s hoping that Friday’s eclipse, here in Ireland, will be visible, without a cloud cover, and advises that it will be dark in the morning eclipse, the temperatures will plummet and the animals will be restive. “It will be a 95-plus per cent eclipse, so here’s hoping.”

Back to that Colonel title, and with John being a member the American Civil War fraternity, he was a natural to be awarded the rather individualistic honour. His friends in America appreciate that he has – perhaps a little eccentrically – given lectures on the war, dressed in the Confederate uniform as General Jackson, “to portray the true story and handle the actual artefacts”.

He added, “I have also been involved in TV work with a couple of films. In one of them, I worked alongside James Ellis at Carrickfergus Castle as an Anglo-Norman Knight complete in real chain-mail armour which I made myself – 30,000 steel rings put together individually in the medieval manner. In another film, I appeared as a Viking.”

His expertise also helped visually impaired children at the History Park near Omagh where he explained the chain-mail to them as they touched and felt it. He has also been involved in education projects for various schools, and is a registered archery instructor in keeping with his ‘old warrior’ ethos.

John Tate was also a DUP councillor with Craigavon Borough Council (1993-97), as a replacement, when several of his colleagues were banned in the throes of the notorious St Peter’s GAA affair. He loved the constituency work, but was generally viewed as too sensitive to indulge in the rough and tumble of Civic Centre debate, “so I didn’t seek re-election!”

By reputation, by word of mouth and Facebook admiration, the Kentuckians decided that John Tate’s love of American Civil War history and his global experiences made him ideal as a Colonel. So the Governor, Steven L. Beshear, invited him to join the ‘Honourable Order of Kentucky Colonels’. “I was more than delighted to accept. It’s described as a ‘Who’s Who’ of outstanding men and women throughout the world,” said John. “I’m humbled to be among them.”

John is married to Lucy, they have a son and four daughters and four grandchildren.