Lives Remembered

Donegal calling Mir... the radio ham who made friends with a spaceman

Manus McClafferty made headlines when he made radio contact with the Mir space station

As a ham radio user, Manus McClafferty was used to making contact with ships at sea and other enthusiasts in far-flung places around the world.

But when he first made contact with a Russian engineer in September 1991, he could not have imagined how far his signal had reached.

From his home in Falcarragh in north-west Donegal, Manus built a remarkable relationship with a cosmonaut on board the Soviet space station Mir, orbiting 200 miles above his head.

Over the next months he kept Sergei Krikalev informed of the dramatic news from Earth as the Soviet Union he served crumbled before the world's eyes.

Trapped in space, Sergei learned the truth about the failed Communist coup against President Mikhail Gorbachev and the break-up of the superpower.

They shared thoughts too on interests as diverse as jazz, painting and cigars, two men on the same wavelength in the most uncertain of times.

Born in Errarooey near Falcarragh, Manus Joe McClafferty was a small man with big eyes and a bright mind who caught the CB bug from a friend in Derry who told him about his work as a radio operator during World War II.

He passed the exams needed to gain a licence and with a 40ft aerial at his parents' home he was able to link up in 1983 with the space shuttle Columbia, as well as make friends with fellow hams around the world.

For his regular conversations with Mir he had to plot the orbit of the space station to catch the brief windows when contact was possible.

Krikalev had been due to return to Earth after months earlier but was forced to stay almost a year when the mission was cancelled - only one other astronaut has spent more time in space.

In excellent English he told Manus how he was paid just £5 per month while in space and was anxious to return home, even if he was aware his Communist Party card was now invalid.

Their unique friendship later became the inspiration for a short film, Mir Friends, and talks continued in recent years about a full-length movie.

While his radio exploits made Manus a minor celebrity, he was already a familiar face in Falcarragh, where he worked at Greene's hardware shop until it closed.

He cared for his mother and father until their deaths, and in 2002 became involved with various projects with community development group Pobal le Chéile, working out of its shop in the same building that housed Greene's.

Extremely well-read, co-ordinator Paul Kernan said visitors were fascinated by him - he always had a story, but was also a great listener.

"Every village in the country has a character and Manus was our character," he said.

"He was known by hundreds of people and he really was a good ambassador for community spirit."

An annual award for community and voluntary work is now planned in his name.

An only child, who never married, Manus lived in recent years at Carrowcannon near his cousin Eileen.

He died suddenly aged 62 on February 19 and is survived by cousins in Falcarragh, Creeslough, Letterkenny, London and the US.

Lives Remembered