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Eames lauds man whose faith and optimism shone as Troubles raged

By Margaret Canning

Sir Billy Hastings was the man who said "why not" when anyone told him "you can't do that", Lord Eames said in his homily.

And the former Archbishop of Armagh said that can-do attitude had enriched Northern Ireland.

Billy Hastings' belief that he could make a success of the Europa Hotel in Belfast, buying the most-bombed hotel in Europe in 1993 as the Troubles raged, marked him out as a man of faith and optimism.

"Names like Culloden, Europa and Slieve Donard became landmarks on the road to a better future from the man who said 'why not,'" he said.

"Why not think ahead and why not show the courage that something could work? Why not?"

Lord Eames said the congregation had gathered to "remember with thanksgiving to one and all the life and the example of Billy Hastings".

He said it was his family's loss of a husband, father and grandfather which was uppermost, but there were many others whose lives were touched by Sir Billy and his success in building up an empire of six hotels. Reflecting that many people from all walks of life had crossed the threshold of a Hastings hotel to celebrate a birthday, wedding or anniversary, he added: "We want to thank God for what he contributed to the lives of many people who would never meet him but who would live to benefit from his courage and his initiative."

Lord Eames said the varied congregation reflected Sir Billy's many interests, from his social life to his business, but they all would have in common a respect for him and his values.

Sir Billy left Royal Belfast Academical Institution at the age of 16 and went into the timber trade as a junior apprentice.

His father William snr died in his 30s after finding a niche in the pub trade in Belfast.

Sir Billy followed him into the industry.

Lord Eames added: "Billy Hastings never, never denied his humble beginnings.

"He never denied in any way his life in which east Belfast played such a key role. He never denied his love for Co Down.

"Some people doubted, as we were surrounded by the darkness of the Troubles, that there could be any vision, any concrete hope of peace and stability.

"Sir Billy's answer - 'why not?' - was turned into an affirmative answer.

"The Everglades in Derry, the Merrion, the new Grand Central, have become landmarks in commercial terms along the road to a better future for this province and this island in the midst of the darkest of days."

Sir Billy reached out into communities which he would not necessarily have identified with in his own background, Lord Eames said.

He had shown charity to those in need. "There are some families who found tremendous hardship but were helped to overcome by the private generosity of the man who said why not?" he added.

Underpinning all his achievements - an OBE, a CBE and a knighthood - was the fact that Sir Billy was a man of "simple, yet devoted Christian faith".

"No matter where he was abroad he would always find a church on Sunday," Lord Eames recalled.

He said Down Cathedral, where Sir Billy has been laid to rest, had benefited from his support, and added: "We commit him to the God he loved and served."

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