Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Rathlin in mourning as island 'character' Johnny Curry drowns in boating accident

The tiny community of Rathlin Island has been left devastated by the loss of one of its most popular residents and a man described as "a real character".

Johnny Curry was a prominent member of Northern Ireland's only inhabited offshore island - with a tight-knit community of less than 100 people - and widely respected just six miles away in the seaside town of Ballycastle, Co Antrim, where he was also a familiar face.

The grandfather-of-three was born on Rathlin and lived there his entire life, offering tourist excursions by boat.

It is believed Mr Curry - described as "a master of the sea" - died after he fell overboard while travelling between Rathlin and Ballycastle on Saturday afternoon.

An air and sea rescue was launched for Mr Curry - who was aged in his 60s - at 4.45pm after the crew of a ferry travelling between Ballycastle and Rathlin Island spotted his empty rib-type boat. Redbay lifeboat discovered Mr Curry's body a mile off the island's Rue Point before 7pm.

It is thought something snagged in the propeller of his boat and in trying to dislodge it, he fell in.

It is also understood he was wearing a life jacket when the incident occurred.

Mr Curry's only child - Catriona - is married to Moyle Independent councillor Seamus Blaney's nephew, Kevin Blaney.

Catriona lives in Ballycastle but also makes her living from tourism, running a popular shop on Rathlin.

The mother of three boys was believed to have been on the island on Saturday at her business.

Mr Blaney said he had known Mr Curry - who was a widower - for nearly 50 years and his death had stunned the area.

"Johnny was well known, not only in Ballycastle," he said.

"I would say anybody in the boating fraternity would know him very well. He ran fishing trips and that sort of thing. Everyone is in shock, just stunned."

Back in February of this year voters on Rathlin Island won a campaign to keep their own ballot box.

Mr Curry had been a presiding officer on the island and was said to be a driving force behind keeping the ballot box, rather than islanders having to travel to Ballycastle to vote. He was also the landlord at McCuaig's Bar on Rathlin before it was bought over.

Both chairs of Rathlin's community association and Moyle District Council said the tragedy had devastated many on the north coast.

Moyle District Council chairman Padraig McShane said the emergency response had been "massive", with approximately 18 boats from Rathlin and Ballycastle searching for Mr Curry.

"He was a highly respected member of the community and would have worked for the development of Rathlin," he said.

"The community is numbed by the news of Johnny's passing.

"The community took advice off Johnny as we looked on him as a master of the sea and he would of given that advice pretty freely for the health and safety of others.

"On behalf of Moyle District Council I'd like to pay my respects to the family and offer my condolences to one of the real characters of Rathlin."

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