Exiles Forum

Lisburn, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland


Talented amateur actor, producer and playwright
from Seymour Hill passes away

Ernie BenningtonA SEYMOUR Hill man who was well known in Northern Ireland's amateur drama circles and in his early life was a good friend of the Northern Ireland actor who played Charlton Heston's chariot race adversary in the classic film 'Ben Hur' has passed away following a short illness

Ernest Edward (Ernie) Bennington, a member of Dunmurry Dramatic Society, whose talents as an actor, producer and playwright made him one of the most highly regarded people on the local amateur dramatics scene, was 83 when he died at Lagan Valley Hospital on the afternoon of November 23.

Depite their grief, his family knew how much importance he attached to the old adage 'the show must go on'.

For this reason they decided to withold the sad news from his grandchildren as two of them were due to sing at a concert just a few hours later.

This adherence to theatrical tradition was a very fitting tribute to a man who made a huge contribution to the Dunmurry group's decades of success.

Ernie in the lead role in The Auction in KillybuckErnie was one of its leading actors and producers and a major highlight of his amateur theatrical career came when he played the lead in 'The Auction at Killybuck' to a packed Grand Opera House.

Another high point was the performance of three plays he penned himself - Rhyme or Reason, Bargain Basement and Full Circle - by drama groups throughout Northern Ireland.

Ernie, who acted as an amateur drama adjudicator, was also expert at dealing with backstage crises.

These sometimes included the failure of actors to show up on the first night of one of his plays.

On these occasions he simply re-wrote the lines backstage in between scenes to ensure the audience was none the wiser.

Ernie, whose English father met his mother during his time in the Merchant Navy, was born in Belfast.

However, during his childhood he lived at Hale in Cornwall as well as a number of other locations in England.

His family returned to Northern Ireland when his father was relocated to Belfast and set up home at Cregagh Road.

Ernie, who became a fitter by trade, married Portadown woman Marie Downey in 1949.

It was also around this time he knew Glengormley actor Billy Millar who used the professional name Stephen Boyd when he appeared in Ben Hur.

Ernie's long membership of Dunmurry Dramatic Society began in 1963 when he was working at Belfast City Hospital and moved to Seymour Hill with Marie and their three sons Billy, Paul and Ian.

Once the boys were married he and Marie enjoyed touring with their caravan until the arrival of their grandchildren meant upgrading to a static site at Annalong where they spent many happy weekends with their family.

Ernie's funeral service took place at St Hilda's Church in Seymour Hill and was followed by cornmital at Roselawn Crematorium.

He is survived by Marie, their three sons and their daughters in law Pearl, Roberta and Catherine. He is also sadly missed by his grandchildren Lynne, Amy, Christina, Peter, Jo n, Karen and Andrew.

Ulster Star