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Lions
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Robert Shaw, originally from Tigers Bay, remembers Buck Aleck. He was a well-known character from the area, a hard man both feared and respected.
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Aleck had left Belfast for Canada and Australia in the 1930's due to political divisions-politically speaking he was a marked man. But his exile didn't last long. Arriving back in the late forties he acquired two toothless lionesses he kept in a large cage in his yard. He reputedly fed and treated them very well, even taking them for walks in the neighbourhood. The authorities eventually made him muzzle them.
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The lions died in the late 50's, allegedly frustrated by living in the confines of a cage over the years (despite their numerous and notorious walks in the city).
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Robert Shaw heard that Buck Aleck spent his last days in Purdeysburn Psychiatric Institution, where he died. He doesn't know of the existence of any photographs of Buck Aleck or his lions but speculates that's because of Aleck's reputation as a hard man.
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Stories also abound that Buck Aleck kept a tiger, which he wrestled in Cornmarket, but this misnomer probably arose because of his association with Tigers Bay (one mural uses the Esso Tiger as its' central image).
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This much is true: Alexander Davidson Robinson, forever known as Buck Aleck, kept a lion as a pet. He was allowed to do so because of a curious loophole in Northern Irish legislation, which allows individuals to keep wild animals as pets if they get a permit. This `Dangerous Wild Animals Act' was questioned in parliament by Martin Smyth of the Ulster Unionist party in 1998.
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"Although some of us believed that the days of Buck Aleck's wee lion were over, we discover now that in Seskinore and in other parts of Northern Ireland people are keeping wild animals in abysmal circumstances", he was recorded as saying in government transcripts.
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West Tyrone seems to be the primary area for wild beasts to roam. By 31 January, 2000 Oliver Gibson; a Northern Ireland Assembly member believed the situation had gotten out of control.
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"Is the Minister aware that in the Minister of the Environment's constituency it cost 250,000 to catch a Sligo wolf, and 750,000 to catch the Aughnacloy beast (a 5ft long, 3ft wide green eyed `feline')? Is he aware too that a recent resident of Seskinore, a Siberian cat, was exported illegally and was shot in the streets of Los Angeles?"
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But Mr. Gibson's facts were slightly askew and the RUC later maintained that the beast was in fact a large, lost and deranged St Bernard dog reported missing from it's home in a nearby parish. It had become matted with dirt and vegetation, and the fact that it cost three quarters of a million pounds to catch suggests that the dog had become quite highly string, emotional and angry at its predicament. Curiously it has also been said that Buck Aleck owned two large St Bernard's which he took on frequent ambles around the city. The answer then is obviously to ban St Bernard dogs.
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Buck Aleck's lion, and lions in general, seem to have a particular resonance in Belfast. Some believe that CS Lewis was inspired as a child by the rectory door handle in St. Mark's, Belfast. Lewis was baptised in St. Mark's and his grandfather was the first rector. The handle depicts a lion's head and is regarded as a model for 'Aslan' the lion in the Narnia stories.
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The Imagine Belfast 2008 City of Culture bid proposes a CS Lewis centre in east Belfast.
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Marginalia:
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* The word eejit is actually a local term for a fool or a buffoon, it is not used in a derogatory manner, more to laugh along with someone. Another version of this is "buck eejit," derived from local character Buck Aleck.
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* The Belfast Lions Club was chartered on March 09, 1974 with a total of 21 members: "We are situated on the eastern end of Prince Edward Island, Canada. The Belfast area is comprised of 17 school communities, which amalgamated to form the Belfast Consolidated School. We are a farming community with potatoes, cattle, and swine our main produce. Ginseng is a new produce being grown on our farms. Emus are also gaining popularity in our area."
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* Buck Aleck's granddaughter Sally was recently approached by a Canadian company who want to make a film about Alexander (Buck Aleck) Davidson Robinson.
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* "Belfast is a small city set between the Antrim hills and the drumlins of County Down. To the north there is the majestic Cave Hill which, seen from certain angles, looks like a lion resting at dusk."
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