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Lindy McDowell: United couple holding up that enormous cheque for that enormous sum of money is enough to lift the heart

Moira couple Frances and Patrick Connolly celebrating their £115m EuroMillions win at the Culloden Estate and Spa in Holywood yesterday
Moira couple Frances and Patrick Connolly celebrating their £115m EuroMillions win at the Culloden Estate and Spa in Holywood yesterday

By Lindy McDowell

The sages of social media are already on the case. In the eyes of some, Frances and Patrick Connolly have been foolish in the extreme by coming forward to confirm that they are the couple who scooped the big EuroMillions lottery jackpot.

What was it again? That's right, £114,969,775.

With a shade short of £115m they are now among the richest people in the country.

As Frances puts it, with some understatement, this is a massive sum of money.

So, are they wise to have gone public?

The first obvious point is that it may otherwise have been tricky enough to hide their great good fortune.

Patrick (54), who is retired, and his wife, Frances (52), who has worked in the voluntary sector, live in Moira, Co Down.

And Moira is a small place.

People would be bound to notice, say, a Porsche in the driveway and a planning application for a swimming pool in the back garden. How would you explain? An elderly relative I never knew about has just died? And left me £115m...

Also, as the couple, who have three daughters, have pointed out, they plan to share the love with around 50 friends and family members.

Someone would surely blab.

Besides all that, not only must they have been bursting to share their fabulous news with the world, but they will have enough on their plate over the next few months coming to terms with what will be a dramatic change in their lifestyle, without having to try to keep secret a multi-million pound win.

Ah, but there will be such prying into their private lives, say the cynics.

This pair sound like they can handle a bit of attention.

I loved that line from Frances, when asked if she was concerned about security. "I've never met anyone I couldn't take down myself!"

There's a woman with a sense of humour, who doesn't take herself too seriously.

But the most telling things we glean from that interview with the pair of them in the sumptuous surrounds of the Culloden Hotel (not only will they be able to afford to dine there in future, they could afford to buy the place) is their touching love for each other - and their thoughtfulness and generosity to others.

The first thing they did after discovering their new mega-wealthy status - after the cup of tea and the hug, that is - was to sit down and compile a list of relatives and friends and organisations they want to share their win with.

That says something about the pair of them.

Frances puts it this way: "It's going to be so much fun giving it away. The pleasure for me is going to be seeing their faces."

And in one of the most touching things a lottery winner has ever said, Patrick sums up his feelings: "I've got a wonderful wife, a wonderful family and wonderful friends, so this is the icing on the cake. Money doesn't bring you happiness. We already had happiness and were very blessed in life."

So, to use that old phrase winners invariably resort to, I do doubt it will change them. But it will change their lifestyle. Massively.

Among the people they will make very happy in the first instance, is their bank manager. They will now be able to fulfil personal dreams. Frances is talking about doing a PhD in clinical psychology.

But there will be pressures, too. The couple come across as smart enough to know that.

The begging letters - not all of them genuine - will be already winging their way towards them. There will be a bit of sniping from the jealous.

But they are grounded and united and just looking at the pair of them as they jointly hold up that enormous cheque for that enormous sum of money, is enough to lift the heart and make you smile.

What a moment that must have been - a moment that will surely stay with them forever - when Patrick revealed to Frances that their one-line lucky dip numbers had come up.

"We don't really do excited - perhaps I raised my voice just a bit at the time when I found out," says Frances.

All of us who've fantasised over the years that some day, it could be us, can imagine how that must have felt. In the same draw I won just over two quid. "Won" might be stretching it. The lucky dip cost £2.50. I didn't even get my money back.

But when you have a go on the lottery - particularly when the jackpot is huge - partly what you are buying is the dream, the impossible dream, that against all the odds and the laws of probability, that magnanimous finger of fate might point down, even to us here in Northern Ireland, to the likes of an ordinary home in Moira, bestowing upon the occupants fairytale riches.

The gurners of social media will carp.

But on behalf of all those of us who can only dream (and often do) of such a win, here's to your future. We wish you just the very best, Frances and Patrick. May it bring you more of the happiness you deserve.

Spend it. Share it. Enjoy it. To use that old cliche, live the dream. Do it for us.

Belfast Telegraph


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