Trevor Hanna: One of an elite breed of Ulster journalists

Trevor Hanna was a leading Northern Ireland journalist whose coverage of the Province’s turbulent history over more than five decades earned him worldwide recognition.

One of an elite breed of Ulster journalists who emerged in an era when newspapers dominated the media and standards and integrity were sacrosanct, he was the consummate professional with a discerning eye for the good story and the human-interest angle.

Held in high esteem by newspaper and magazine editors and television and radio producers and their readerships and audiences in his native Belfast and further afield, he was professionally and public acknowledged as having a sound knowledge of all aspects of Northern Ireland affairs and wide experience in meeting the demanding requirements of all sections of the media.

His remarkable career spanned more than half a century – from the Brookeborough era through the collapse of the old Stormont Parliament to the eventual power-sharing agreement between Unionists and Republicans. That time also saw the demise of Belfast’s industrial standing and decades of civil turmoil, trauma and tragedy which projected Northern Ireland from a seldom-mentioned sleepy backwater into the world’s front-page headlines.

He entered journalism from grammar school in 1954 as a junior reporter with the Belfast Newsletter before being offered a post on the Belfast Telegraph by its distinguished and crusading editor, John E. Sayers.

Under the incisive news editorship of veteran newspaperman Fred Gamble his versatility was quickly displayed as he covered general news stories, many of them capturing colourful local characters and the pathos, humour and distinctiveness of Ulster life, while writing regular features on such diverse subjects as youth topics, military matters and showbusiness.

He also served variously as Local Government, Property and Shipping Correspondent and Parliamentary Reporter and then in the early 1960s as Shipbuilding and Industrial Correspondent chronicling the last great days of Belfast shipyard.

Following an invitation to join the London Daily Mail, he gained further valuable experience covering major national stories in England.

He returned to his native city and the paper on which he began his career as news editor, where he was instrumental in achieving record circulation figures under the dynamic editorship of Cowan Watson.

His growing reputation led to his appointment as the first member of the Daily Mirror’s newly-established Northern Ireland news team.

His record on the Mirror, spanning the turbulent political years of the rise of Ian Paisley and the emergence of the civil rights movement, enabled him some years later to establish a successful freelance agency.

He was contracted as media communications adviser to the Ulster Unionist Party, where he organised its first press office and gained further insight into the workings of government through a close professional relationship with successive Prime Ministers Terence O’Neill and James Chichester-Clark.

He also acted as a speechwriter to several other prominent politicians of the day.

Trevor also held a General Service Commission in the Territorial Army, with the rank of Captain, as Public Relations Officer of 107 (Ulster) Independent Infantry Brigade Group.

A veteran of the 30-year Northern Ireland terror war, he covered every major story during the decades of civil unrest and political upheaval which erupted in the Province, often operating in the front line of terrorist incidents and street violence and interviewing major players from shadowy paramilitary figures and local political leaders to international statesmen.

As the proprietor of Ulsternews-International Communications Group – grown from the news service and PR consultancy which he established in 1968 – he became the reliable contact for the world’s media as they swarmed into the Europa Hotel in Belfast at the height of The Troubles.

He was retained as a correspondent by an extensive range of regional, national and overseas newspapers, magazines, foreign agencies and broadcasting organisations and as a consultant by an impressive portfolio of corporate clients.

Known throughout the media world as ‘Hanna, Belfast”, he contributed to the success of the Belfast Telegraph’s sister publication, Sunday Life, following its launch as a regular columnist.

As well as recording significant historical events, he produced many remarkable exclusives, including a memorable interview with US Senator Edward Kennedy on the influence of the most powerful of Irish-American families.

One of his earliest scoops was the gallows confession of Newry labourer Robert McGladdery – the last man to be hanged for murder in Northern Ireland – to killing 19-year-old shop assistant Pearl Gamble in 1961.

Other notable exclusives included his gripping narrative of life and death inside the Maze Prison as the only journalist to be given access to the jail during the tense weeks of the IRA hunger strikes in 1981, disclosures of terrorist gun-running conspiracies and previously untold intelligence undercover operations and exposes of the extravagant criminal lifestyles of a number of notorious paramilitary leaders.

He also worked closely with well-known international writers and publishers and was commissioned by the acclaimed American author, Leon Uris, as a consultant for his best-selling novel, ‘Trinity”, an historically-based fiction set in Ireland.

An accomplished broadcaster and sought-after public speaker, he travelled widely throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland as well as Europe, the United States of America and Canada to take part in public debates and television and radio documentaries and talk shows.

He was a life member of the National Union of Journalists and the journalists’ charity, the Newspaper Press Fund.

Born in November 1936 on Belfast’s Lisburn Road, Samuel Trevor Hanna was educated at the local Ulsterville and Fane Street Public Elementary Schools and the city’s Methodist College and was a Past President of ‘Methody’Old Boys’ Association.

He is survived by his wife, Ann (nee Hamilton, of Finaghy), two sons, Paul and Timothy; daughter, Karen; and four granddaughters, Sarah, Megan, Rebecca and Talia.

He was a member of Belfast Harlequins and the Ulster Reform Club.

A distinguished Freemason, he was an Honorary Past Grand Deacon of the Grand Lodge of Ireland – to which he was also media relations and PR consultant – a Past Provincial Grand Steward in the Provincial Grand Lodge of Antrim, a Past Master of Press Lodge No. 432, a Past Excellent King of Prince of Wales’ Own Royal Arch Chapter 154 and a member of Prince of Wales’ Own Preceptory.

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