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Arlene Foster pays tribute to billionaire Duke of Westminster who never forgot Northern Ireland roots

By Cate McCurry

Published 11/08/2016

The Duke and Duchess of Westminster with their baby boy Hugh in 1991
The Duke and Duchess of Westminster with their baby boy Hugh in 1991

First Minister Arlene Foster has led tributes to billionaire landowner the Duke of Westminster, who grew up in her native Co Fermanagh.

Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor - the third richest man in the UK, worth an estimated £9 billion - was born in Omagh and raised on an island in Lough Erne that he once described as "idyllic and isolated".

The 64-year-old died in hospital in Lancashire on Tuesday afternoon following a suspected heart attack.

More: Duke of Westminster death: How idyllic childhood deep in the Fermanagh countryside left a lasting impression on sometimes troubled Duke

The DUP leader said she was "deeply saddened" by his death and added that the people of Fermanagh would remember him with "great affection".

She said that the father-of-four maintained close links to the county right up to his death.

"The Duke never lost his attachment for his childhood home and the last time I spoke with him was at the memorial service for the Earl of Erne in Enniskillen Cathedral in May of this year," she said.

"The Duke of Westminster may have been a very rich person, but he used his fortune for good in many areas of London and beyond. He was above all a man of the country and loved farming, something that is obviously linked back to his upbringing here in rural Fermanagh.

"His untimely death at the age of just 64 will of course be felt most keenly by his family, and I send them my deepest condolences, but he will also be mourned in Fermanagh, where he will always be remembered with great affection."

The Duke and his wife Natalia had three daughters and a son.

The Duke spent many years of his youth on a Fermanagh island where he had plans to become a beef farmer.

But after his uncle died without any heirs, his father Robert inherited the title and his life was to change dramatically. The Duke had previously insisted he wasn't interested in his wealth, saying in a rare interview: "Not interested in material things. Honestly. It would drive me bonkers if I thought too deeply about it."

Fermanagh-South Tyrone MP Tom Elliott said the Grosvenor family were very much part of the community where he grew up.

"I know the Duke of Westminster and his father looked on themselves very much as Fermanagh people," he said.

"They worshipped in the local church, shopped in the local shops. I think people looked at them very much as Fermanagh as well.

"There are many stories going around about how they were very integrated into the community and even though they may have had a lot of wealth, they were very much down to earth people and grounded in their Fermanagh roots."

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