Almost a century after he first sang with the choir of St Anne’s Cathedral, 105-year-old Billy Noble was back in the pews on Tuesday to enjoy the hymns he learned as a boy.
He was aged just three when the Titanic sank, has lived through two world wars and witnessed the internet revolution, but thinks the world hasn’t changed a lot despite all the turmoil and great innovations.
Billy was born in January 1909 and can still fondly remember his early years spent with the cathedral’s boys’ choir – not just for the singing but for the chance to play football as well.
“I was a good footballer – I would not have missed a football match for anything,” Bill said.
He still lives in the home he set up with his late wife Henriette when they married in 1938, and is a parishioner of St Patrick’s Parish Church in Jordanstown.
The former Skegoneill School and Inst pupil was happy to accept an invitation to hear the boys and girls of the Belfast Cathedral Cross Community Choir School singing during their regular Tuesday rehearsal.
Three north Belfast schools – Edenbrooke Primary, Sacred Heart Primary and Cliftonville Integrated – are involved in the Choir School Project with singing tutors from St Anne’s working in the schools every weekday.
The musical outreach programme is helping St Anne’s achieve its ambition to build a new cross-community boys’ choir, as well as taking the cathedral’s musical expertise into the local community.
A civil servant all his working life, Billy served as Comptroller of Estate Duty in Northern Ireland.
On retirement in 1973 he was awarded the CBE.
Underwhelmed by the many advancements during the 20th and 21st centuries, Billy said the world remains essentially the same place he remembers as a child.
“Not a lot has changed,” he said. “A whole lot of wee bits maybe.”
Speaking after arriving at the cathedral for the rehearsal yesterday, he said he could still remember some of the hymns they sang as children.
Billy said he would encourage the children of the current choirs to start young and to practise as much as possible.
“That’s the best way,” he told Dean John Mann who greeted the returning chorister.
When told by the Dean that the choir were preparing to sing the hymn Lead Me Lord, Billy happily sang the first two lines.
“I love a sing-song,” Billy added.
Billy Noble was born in 1909 – the year Woolworths opened its first store in the UK and rugby was first played at Twickenham.
His mother was a unionist activist in the Duncairn area of Belfast which was represented at the time by Lord Carson.
Recalling his early school years at Skegoneill, Billy said the headmaster would be waiting at the door with the cane for any unfortunate pupil who dared show up even one minute late.
When the time came for annual Boys’ Brigade camp, he remembers walking from his home in north Belfast, carrying tents and rucksacks, to the campsite in Islandmagee.
He joined the Home Guard during the Second World War and remembers his time in the military reserve with fondness.
Enduring the tough times of the early 20th century has not prevented Billy enjoying a long and happy life.
He attributes his longevity to his love of walking. He would have ventured out for a walk in all weathers – including a weekly trip up Carnmoney Hill with his family on a Sunday – and becoming a keen golfer when he retired from the Civil Service.