Snow Patrol star's tribute to duchess for inspiring him
Snow Patrol guitarist Johnny McDaid has paid tribute to an aristocrat who inspired him as he joined members of the royal family and clergy at a service of thanksgiving for the Duchess of Abercorn.
The Duke of York joined family and friends of the late philanthropist in St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast yesterday.
Sacha Hamilton, Duchess of Abercorn, died on December 10, 2018 at the age of 72.
Born in Tucson, Arizona, she was related through her mother Georgina to Tsar Nicholas I of Russia, and was also a great-great-great granddaughter of the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin.
She came to live in Ireland in 1966 when she married James Hamilton, now Duke of Abercorn, and the family has connections to the Queen and Prince Philip and to the late Lord Louis Mountbatten.
The duchess, who trained as a professional counsellor, was very aware of the trauma the Troubles had inflicted on children.
To help them express their thoughts and feelings, and to find a 'voice' of their own, she set up the Pushkin Trust in 1987. One of the children she reached out to was McDaid, who would later become a singer, songwriter and musician with Snow Patrol.
Paying a moving tribute in front of 800 guests at the service, he spoke of his close personal friendship with the Duchess, which grew from their first meeting at his school when he was 11.
"She showed me that we all have within us a universal potential," he said.
"Her dream was giant but her heart had more than enough space to nurture and grow it. She held up a light and altered the future for generations."
McDaid, whose partner is former Friends actress Courteney Cox, said the duchess had given him "the most precious gift of all, not a voice, but the gift to use my own voice, and she listened".
He added: "In every word, story or song that I will ever write there is something of Sacha that is alive in it."
Welcoming guests earlier to the service, Dean of Belfast the Very Rev Stephen Forde said: "She was related to royalty, yet at home with all.
"And through her own experience of loss through the violence of terrorism, she worked tirelessly to find healing from the trauma of the Troubles for children and adults alike."
Flowers and trees from the duchess's home at Baronscourt, Co Tyrone, adorned the cathedral for yesterday's event.