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Northern Ireland's sad farewell to the most inspirational people who died in 2015

Published 31/12/2015

Dr John Hinds
Dr John Hinds
Father Gerry Reynolds
Roy Mason
Desmond Boal
Bella Lowry
Janet Coleman
Jack McKee
Charlene Campbell and Myla
Playwright, Brian Friel
Lord Molyneaux

Northern Ireland lost several well-known figures in the past year. Here, we pay tribute to some of the most inspirational people who died in 2015.

John Hinds

Dr John Hinds died after he was involved in an accident while providing medical cover at a Skerries 100 practice session on July 3. He was 35 years old.

Born in Newtownards, John had a lifelong love of motorcycle racing. When he qualified as a doctor in 2003, he continued to work with the motorcycling community, volunteering as part of a rapid response medical aid team across Northern Ireland. John and his colleague Dr Fred McSorley were given the name 'The Flying Doctors' because of their work.

John was also a consultant anaesthetist at Craigavon Area Hospital and was trained in pre-hospital trauma care. He also lectured in trauma science.

He saved the lives of many motorcycle racers but tragically lost his own life at the event in Co Dublin as he was involved in the accident while riding his bike with marshals after the event.

He had campaigned for Northern Ireland to have its own Air Ambulance. He said this was something that was a "necessity, not a luxury" as Northern Ireland was the only region of the UK without the service. He had met the health minister just weeks before he died.

At his funeral, his friends and family pledged to continue the fight to make his dream a reality. His partner Janet Acheson continued to campaign for an Air Ambulance and a petition for a Helicopter Emergency Medical Service was signed by more than 70,000 people.

In September, health minister Simon Hamilton announced that he would bring the emergency medical helicopter to Northern Ireland. Discussions are still ongoing as Hamilton is considering how the helicopter will be funded, but it could be introduced within the next three to five years.

Father Gerry Reynolds

Redemptionist priest at the Clonard Monastery, Father Gerry Reynolds died on November 30. He was 82.

He played a major role in the peace process and he was well known for his work in trying to tackle sectarianism across Northern Ireland.

He was originally from Co Limerick and was ordained in 1960. He arrived at Clonard at the height of the Troubles in 1983 and worked there for more than 30 years.

Alongside his friend Fr Alex Reid, He worked as one of the "quiet peacemakers," going between the IRA and politicians to start the road to peace. Their work led Gerry Adams to describe the monastery as"the cradle of the peace process".

He died at the Royal Victoria Hospital after a short illness.

Roy Mason

Roy Mason, the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, died on April 19. The miner turned Labour politician from Barnsley, South Yorkshire, was best known in Northern Ireland for his tough stance on security during his time as Secretary in the height of the Troubles.

He was also remembered for his attempts to stop news coverage of the Troubles in November 1976.

He astounded the BBC Board of Governors at a private dinner party in the Culloden Hotel in November 1976 by launching a fierce attack on the Corporation's news coverage and saying there should be a three month moratorium on Troubles-related coverage.

He left the role in 1979 as Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Government came to power, but he continued to represent Barnsley until 1987 when he entered the House of Lords.

Desmond Boal

Desmond Boal was best known as one of Northern Ireland's leading barristers and as a founding member of the DUP. He died on March 24 at the age of 85.

He represented the Shankill constituency from 1960 to 1971 as a Unionist MP in the Stormont Parliament.

In early 1971, he resigned from the Unionist Party and came together with the Rev Ian Paisley to form the Democratic Unionist Party. He was that party's first chairman but he left in 1974 after a number of disagreements with Paisley.

He was also remembered as one of the fiercest defenders, as well as one of the most articulate advocates at the Bar. He featured in many of the most high-profile criminal trials during the Troubles and was a much sought-after defence advocate.

Baby Bella

Bella Lowry captured the hearts of people across Northern Ireland but she sadly died at just 16 weeks with spinal muscular atrophy on November 4.

The little girl from Bangor was born with the genetic disease that causes muscle weakness and progressive loss of movement.

Thousands of people donated to a fundraising campaign to get Bella to England by air ambulance for treatment. When she died, they had raised £30,000.

She passed away at home in the arms of her parents at exactly seven months old.

Speaking at her funeral, her mum Judith said: "She had a twinkle in her eye when she smiled and that smile would light up the darkest of rooms.

"She lit up our world. She was a real ray of sunshine and was such a happy little baby."

Janet Coleman

One of Northern Ireland's best-known transplant athletes, Janet Coleman died at the age of 51 on May 30.

Janet, originally from Newry, was described as the "driving force" behind the Northern Ireland transplant sporting team.

Despite three kidney transplants, she went on to coach the Great Britain and Northern Ireland swimming team for the transplant games, inspiring many others who had received organ donations.

Hundreds attended her funeral including members of Transplant Sport NI, who formed a guard of honour in recognition of her contribution to the organisation. Alongside her coaching role, she was vice-chair of Transplant Sport NI.

A poignant tribute posted on Transplant Sport Northern Ireland's Facebook reads: "Small in stature, but larger than life if you had ever met her, she was someone who never failed to raise a laugh or brighten up whatever gathering she was part of."

Jack McKee

Veteran Larne Unionist politician Jack McKee died on October 4 at the age of 72. He was suffering from infective exacerbated pulmonary fibrosis.

He was was first elected to Larne Borough Council when it was formed in 1973 and he resigned just before the new 11 amalgamated councils came into effect in April this year.

He resigned from the DUP in 2007 and joined the TUV in protest at the DUP's power-sharing agreement with Sinn Fein.

TUV leader Jim Allister said: "Jack was a unique man of the people for whom nothing was too much trouble. Even in his latter years of ill-health Jack went way beyond the call of duty in serving the people of Larne, a town he loved so deeply.

"Fearless in his defence of unionism and unafraid to often stand alone, it was a great privilege to have him as a TUV councillor until his well-deserved retirement last year."

Charlene Campbell

Charlene Campbell died from cancer at 33, just five years after her daughter Myla also died of the disease.

Charlene, from Portadown, developed a fear of cancer after her baby daughter, who was affectionately known as Smyla Myla, died from an extremely aggressive rhabdoid tumour when she was just days old. She died in her mother's arms at just 12 months and 12 days old.

Charlene had received the devastating diagnosis of breast cancer earlier this year. After seeing what her daughter went through, she decided she would follow a holistic treatment path.

The Co Armagh town was heartbroken when she lost her battle with the disease on October 7. She was laid to rest beside her little girl and her family are now trying to raise £10,000 for charity in her memory.

Brian Friel

Playwright Brian Friel died on October 2 at the age of 86 following a long illness.

He came from humble beginnings in Co Tyrone and went on to become one of Ireland's most well-known dramatists.

Described as a "giant of Irish and world theatre", plays such as Dancing at Lughnasa and Philadelphia, Here I Come went up on stages across the world.

He was born in Killyclogher, near Omagh, and educated at St Columb's College after his family moved to Londonderry when he was 10 and he continued to have a deep love for the city throughout his life.

He worked as a teacher in Derry before moving to Co Donegal in the 1960s, where he focused on writing.

His breakthrough came when Philadelphia, Here I Come was performed on Broadway in 1966, just two years after it was first shown in Dublin.

He had more success in London's West End and on Broadway with Aristocrats in 1979, Translations in 1980 and his most well-known work Dancing at Lughnasa in 1990.

Friel was awarded three Tony awards in 1992 for his portrayal of the life in the town of Ballybeg in Co Donegal - a fictional town based on Glenties, where he was finally laid to rest after a simple funeral that took place earlier this year.

In 1981, Friel wrote that the west Donegal village, where his mother was born, "occupies a large portion of my affections and permanently shaped my imagination".

Despite his growing fame, he remained a very private person throughout his career and he often shunned the limelight. Friel always maintained that he wanted his plays to speak for him.

Friel also served as a senator in the Irish parliament and his portrait was displayed in Ireland's National Gallery.

Lord Molyneaux

Former Ulster Unionist leader Jim Molyneaux died on March 9 at the age of 92.

One of the longest serving leaders of the UUP, Lord Molyneaux was credited with bringing stability to his party during some of the most turbulent years in Northern Ireland.

He was born in Killead, Co Antrim, and he went on to serve in the RAF during the Second World War. He was also among the first British servicemen to enter the liberated Bergen Belsen concentration camp in 1945. He returned there in 2005 with a documentary team to reflect on his experiences.

The lifelong bachelor joined the Unionist Party when he returned to Northern Ireland in 1946.

Throughout the 1960s, he served on Antrim County Council before being elected as UUP MP for South Antrim. By 1979, he had risen to the role of leader of the party, a job which he held until 1995.

He was described as Gentleman Jim in recognition of his kind and courteous nature, but he was also fiercely defensive of the Union. He once said: "I place the safety of Northern Ireland within the Union as my absolute priority and I will not be cajoled into any form of phoney structure that would endanger that position."

He was successful in getting James Callaghan's government to give Northern Ireland more MPs.

He believed that Margaret Thatcher would never sign the Anglo-Irish Agreement, leading to Paisley's call for his resignation in 1985 but, a year later, they formed a political pact and shared a platform for a huge "Ulster says No" anti-agreement rally at Belfast City Hall.

He stepped down on his 75th birthday, handing over leadership to David Trimble.

He was knighted in 1996 and became a life peer in 1997, taking the title Lord Molyneaux of Killead.

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