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Pal's tribute to Belfast teacher who died on Spanish pilgrimage

By Angela Rainey

Published 15/07/2016

James McDonagh died while taking part in his fifth Camino pilgrimage
James McDonagh died while taking part in his fifth Camino pilgrimage

Tributes have been paid to a former teacher from west Belfast who died after completing a two-week pilgrimage in Spain.

Retired James McDonagh (60) - also known as Seamus - was a keen walker.

He was taking part in his fifth Camino de Santiago when he suffered a heart attack just hours after finishing the 320km Oviedo to Santiago route.

Described as an "outstanding teacher and an amazing person" by best friend John Craig, Mr McDonagh retired after 30 years in teaching to care for his late wife Anna, who died in 2010.

Mr McDonagh, from the Glen Road, is survived by son Barry, daughter Clare and six grandchildren, "which he doted on".

A former pupil of De La Salle College in the west of the city, he went on to teach art there in 1978 where he met Mr Craig, a maths teacher.

"We were great friends and had a great friendship throughout our personal lives and professionally," Mr Craig said.

"When Anna died Seamus felt that life had lost its purpose, so we started walking together through the Mournes, and that would have been our fifth Camino walk.

"He was a very spiritual person and he felt that doing the Camino renewed his spirit for living.

"He was a very philosophical person and very athletic."

The pair did not start the walk together as Mr Craig's flight had been delayed by a day, so Mr McDonagh began without him, but the two caught up along the way.

"Seamus had gone to Mass that morning and taken communion before going for a meal," Mr Craig explained.

"It's very surreal to think his real name is James and he worked at De La Salle and he was staying in an albergue (hostel) called De La Salle. He then died in the city of St James on the Camino do Santiago, which means 'the way of St James'.

"He was a very genuine person who had a cool head and was a safe pair of hands. He was shy and not one for the limelight.

"But anyone who met him felt his presence; he was a very deep thinker but had a mischievous sense of humour.

"It's surreal to think he has gone; everyone is shocked but it's nice to see how positively people remember him and hear all the stories they have to tell. He was such an amazing person from an amazing family."

Funeral arrangements are not yet confirmed but Mr McDonagh's body is expected to be flown home next week.

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