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Loving tribute for popular teacher after school names new park in her honour

By Amanda Ferguson

She was an inspirational teacher who believed in the power of play to fire tiny minds.

So it is entirely fitting that the memory of Greenisland Primary School teacher Jacqui Breen has been honoured with the opening of a new outdoor playground.

Mrs Breen died from ovarian cancer at the age of 54 earlier this year.

Now her pupils and colleagues have unveiled a plaque in honour of the much-loved teacher, bearing the quote from children's author Roald Dahl: "Life is more fun if you play games."

Mrs Breen's widower Dermot spoke of his emotion yesterday after children from the Co Antrim school gathered to pay tribute to her legacy and unveil the plaque.

Pupil Matthew Wightman (11) was among those to speak of the difference the teacher made to his life.

"Mrs Breen taught me to read and write. I wouldn't have got on so well at school without her," he said.

The teacher, originally from Ballycastle but later living in Belfast, enjoyed a 25-year career.

Greenisland principal Liam McGuckin spoke of the gap left in the school by her untimely death in January.

"She was a lovely woman and very passionate about children learning through play," he said.

"Her husband Dermot has received a number emails from pupils who are adults now about how much they loved her teaching.

"She led the development of the curriculum in the junior school and was a very innovative teacher, doing lots outside the classroom to promote dance and gymnastics. They were two of her great passions."

The outdoor playground cost £15,000 and was paid for through an Awards For All grant and £5,000 raised by the Greenisland Parent Teachers Association.

Mr McGuckin told the Belfast Telegraph that those gathered included the last set of children she taught, and the oldest.

Mrs Breen was diagnosed with ovarian cancer last year. She underwent treatment but the condition was too severe for her to survive.

Mr McGuckin said one of her final wishes was that her friends and family would wear bright clothing on the day of her funeral and that donations be made to Cancer Research UK in lieu of flowers.

"She knew she was dying," he said. She arranged what she wanted for her funeral and one of her requests was that everyone would dress brightly, so we arranged a bright clothes day at school too.

"Both children and parents came in bright clothes and £1,760 from that has gone towards Cancer Research UK."

Dermot said he was touched by the tributes to his wife.

"It is a very touching and appropriate what the school has done dedicating the outdoor play area to Jacqui," he said.

"A memorial cup in Jacqui's name will also be handed out each year to a pupil for 'trying hard and enthusiasm'. She believed children could learn through play and that it helps with social skills too.

"She was such a big part of the school and community. She is missed by many."

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