Northern Ireland

Co Down village remembers chance reunion of late Terry Anderson and his fellow Beirut hostages

The American journalist was held for nearly seven years in Lebanon, for a large part of time alongside Belfast man Brian Keenan

Mr Anderson was given a hero’s welcome on his return to the States (AP))
Terry Anderson was given a hero’s welcome on his return to the United States (AP)) (Mark Duncan/AP)

Beirut hostage Terry Anderson was not even supposed to be on a panel at an inaugural literary festival in a Co Down village.

His fellow hostages, Belfast man Brian Keenan and John McCarthy, had been invited and were due to attend as special guests at the 2016 Rostrevor Literary Festival.

But by chance the American, who has died aged 76, had landed in Dublin around the same time, recalled the Rostrevor-based singer, songwriter Tommy Sands. Mr Anderson decided to call on Mr Keenan, living in the capital city at the time.

“They drove north together,” said Mr Sands.

That’s how all three, who formed a remarkable bond during their years of captivity in the 1980s and into the 1990s, were reunited, he added.

Mr Anderson was held for nearly seven years by militants in Beirut. Both Mr Keenan and Mr McCarthy were held for nearly as along.

In a shared post on social media, Mr Sands said: “Remembering Terry Anderson who has just died, meeting for the first time in 20 years at Rostrevor Literary festival in 2016 with fellow remarkable hostages Brian Keenan and John McCarthy.”

Posted by Tommy Sands on Monday 22 April 2024

A video was shared of Mr Anderson speaking at the festival which revealed his “humour in midst of the horror”.

At the festival, Mr Anderson recalled the different approaches by himself and east Belfast man Brian Keenan.

“Brian’s message was ‘I hate you’, which of course got him special treatment from time to time. Still, my approach was to try and negotiate conditions - and that got me nowhere at all,” he said.

Mr Anderson was working as an Associated Press correspondent when he was abducted off the street and held. He chronicled his ordeal in the 1993 memoir Den Of Lions.

He died on Sunday at his home in Greenwood Lake, New York, said his daughter, Sulome Anderson.

Julie Pace, senior vice president and executive editor of the AP, said: “Terry was deeply committed to on-the-ground eyewitness reporting and demonstrated great bravery and resolve, both in his journalism and during his years held hostage.

“We are so appreciative of the sacrifices he and his family made as the result of his work.”

Ms Anderson said of her father: “He never liked to be called a hero, but that’s what everyone persisted in calling him.

“I saw him a week ago and my partner asked him if he had anything on his bucket list, anything that he wanted to do. He said: ‘I’ve lived so much and I’ve done so much. I’m content.”’

After returning to the United States in 1991, Mr Anderson led a peripatetic life, giving public speeches, teaching journalism at several prominent universities and, at various times, operating a blues bar, Cajun restaurant, horse ranch and gourmet restaurant.

Former Beruit hostages Brian Keenan and John McCarthy. Picture by Bill Smyth
Former Beirut hostages Brian Keenan and John McCarthy

He also struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder, won millions of dollars in frozen Iranian assets after a federal court concluded that country played a role in his capture, then lost most of it to bad investments. He filed for bankruptcy in 2009.

Upon retiring from the University of Florida in 2015, Mr Anderson settled on a small horse farm in a quiet, rural section of northern Virginia he had discovered while camping with friends.

“I live in the country and it’s reasonably good weather and quiet out here and a nice place, so I’m doing all right,” he said with a chuckle during a 2018 interview with The Associated Press.

Mr Keenan was the first to be freed in 1990 followed by his two companions a year later.