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Munich disaster hero Harry Gregg to open children's memorial garden as grieving mum's vision is fulfilled

By Ivan Little

Published 29/08/2015

Andrea McAleese with a picture of her beloved daughter Roma, who died five years ago
Andrea McAleese with a picture of her beloved daughter Roma, who died five years ago
The Angel of Hope Memorial garden in Coleraine
Harry Gregg

Football legend Harry Gregg, who was hailed a hero after saving lives in the Munich air disaster, will have a personal tragedy on his mind as he opens a memorial garden in Coleraine tomorrow.

For the grown-up daughter of the 82-year-old former Manchester United and Northern Ireland goalkeeper will have her own special space in the Angel of Hope garden, which has been pioneered by Coleraine hairdresser Andrea McAleese.

Prisoners from Magilligan jail have helped with the building of the memorial, which is on land that Andrea is leasing from her local council.

She came up with the idea of the memorial after her three-year-old daughter Roma was killed in a car accident near her home in 2009.

She said: "I wanted to establish a special place where parents could remember children they lost to illnesses or accidents.

"I was also determined that some good would come from Roma's death and that her life would mean something and that she wouldn't be forgotten."

The memorial was designed by a local architect Stephen Todd, who now lives in Australia.

Families can purchase bronze stars inscribed with the names and the ages of their loved ones, which will go up on the white walls around the garden.

One of the 80 stars which will be erected tomorrow is dedicated to Harry's daughter Karen, who died from cancer.

"We were very humbled when Harry said he would open the memorial," said Andrea. "He is a wonderful man, an inspiring hero who saved a pregnant mother, a child and team-mates from that plane in Munich in 1958."

Andrea knows tomorrow will be a day of mixed emotions for her.

She's proud that she has been able to realise her dream of completing the garden.

But she is still feeling a huge sense of loss and pain over Roma's death.

She said: "I thought that the memorial would be some sort of closure for me, but that hasn't happened yet.

"I still miss Roma every day and she is still part of my life. I tell people I have three children Maya, Ty and Roma. And that's the way it will always be."

The memorial includes a picture of a smiling Roma, taken by her nursery school teacher only hours before she died.

"It's obviously the last image we have of Roma and it just captures her lovely wee personality perfectly," said Andrea.

The memorial, which is on land beside the offices of the Causeway Coast and Glens Council, has been constructed by builder John McGarvey, whose daughter Kelly is also honoured in the garden.

By a tragic twist of fate Kelly (30) had been helping Andrea to raise the £70,000 needed for the memorial when she died.

She fell to her death last year at Downhill after apparently trying to save her blind dog, which was seriously injured.

Andrea has extended her original plans for the garden by including a room for parents to remember children who died at birth or through miscarriages.

She said: "I think its a beautiful sanctuary. Everyone has a cemetery to go to, but I want the garden to be somewhere for families to celebrate lives.

"It's a bright, calm and modern memorial with lots of benches for visitors to sit on to have their reflections.

"The benches were made by prisoners from Magilligan and we are very grateful to them."

Andrea has received requests for memory stars from all over Northern Ireland. She added: "I would love this to be the first of many such memorials across Northern Ireland. And I will be only too happy to offer advice to anyone with a similar plan."

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