“Take each hour as it comes” is Barbara McNarry’s advice to the family of Alex Higgins ahead of his funeral on Monday.
As George Best’s sister, she is better placed than most to give counsel on dealing with the intensity of public and Press attention that accompanies the funeral of a much-loved star.
On December 3, 2005, nearly 100,000 mourners lined the funeral route to Stormont’s Parliament Buildings to pay their respects to the Belfast-born football legend.
More than four-and-a-half years later, another local sporting hero is being laid to rest, and a similar outpouring of grief is expected.
“You face the full glare of the Press, as you’re thrown into the public eye. You’re just forced to deal with it. However, it’s amazing how resilient human beings can be.”
Barbara recalled the pressures that accompanied an unrelenting tide of public sympathy following George’s funeral, but describes them as “pleasant pressures”, leading as they did to lasting memorials of her brother.
She and husband Norman were so overwhelmed by offers of support that in April 2006 they set up The George Best Foundation to recognise George’s life, football and aid alcohol-related issues. “The charity my husband and I set up was inundated with offers. Of course, we then had the naming of the airport and aeroplane and the commemorative five-pound note.”
There has been much speculation this week on a memorial for Alex Higgins and what form this should take. A statue and a snooker academy have been just two of the many suggestions.
Barbara believes that all of Northern Ireland’s sporting heroes deserve a permanent legacy. “I wish there was some way to honour them all, as there have been so many. Perhaps a sporting museum in Northern Ireland would be fitting.”