Tribute to priest who revolutionised lough eel industry
Fishing communities around Lough Neagh are in mourning following the death of Fr Oliver Kennedy, the priest who masterminded the establishment of Europe's largest wild eel fishery.
Fr Kennedy died in hospital yesterday at the age of 83.
Last night Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill paid tribute to the late chairman of the Lough Neagh Fishermen's Cooperative Society (LNFCS), saying: "Fr Kennedy was an inspirational figure for Lough Neagh eel fishermen and their families."
West Belfast-born, he moved to rural Duneane parish in Toomebridge, Co Antrim, in 1961, said LNFCS secretary Pat Close.
"Sometime in 1963 he was approached by some local fishermen and asked to help advise them and take an interest in their struggles in terms of access to fishing rights on the lough," he said. "He had no knowledge of fish marketing or that kind of thing, but he took an interest at the behest of some parishioners."
He was a founder member of the Co-operative Society in 1965 and raised enough funds to buy a 20% share of Toome Eel Fishery.
In 1972, the society was able to buy the remainder of the shares and fishermen became "masters of their own destiny", Mr Close said.
Until admission to hospital a month ago he was coming into the office for several hours a day.
"It was indicative of his commitment. He was a very energetic man who happily combined pastoral duties with his role at the fishery," said Mr Close.