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Bittersweet birthday bash for NI's oldest man with Down's syndrome as family forced to miss his 76th

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George McCullagh with his sisters pre-lockdown

George McCullagh with his sisters pre-lockdown

George McCullagh with care home staff and a cuddly toy

George McCullagh with care home staff and a cuddly toy

George McCullagh with his sisters pre-lockdown

For the first time in 76 years George McCullagh, the oldest living person in the UK and Ireland with Down's syndrome, has celebrated a birthday without his family.

But the resident of Marina Care Home in Ballyronan was still in great form as staff pulled out all the stops to mark his special occasion.

Born on June 1, 1944, his parents Mary Elizabeth and William George McCullagh were told their son wasn't expected to live beyond his teenage years.

But proud sister Eileen Miller, who lives close by in Randalstown, was only too delighted to drop off presents and cake for her brother last Friday ahead of his big day.

Eileen, along with George's sisters Elizabeth Boyd and Dorothy McCullagh, all took part in a video chat with him to help celebrate.

"It was emotional for us," said Eileen. "We all know the reasons why we couldn't visit him today. He brings so much love to the family and we're delighted with the efforts Marina Care Home staff have made to look after him."

George's milestone has been noted around the world, with messages coming from the US, Australia and South Africa to mark his birthday.

"George has been involved with pro-life for a long time and he's become quite a celebrity through that. He's loving all the attention," she added.

"He was supposed to go to London with the Down's Syndrome Association, but if he's able to do it in the future he'll be there. We've always said that if George can help save one life he'll have done more than most."

From a farming family, George's father had hoped the birth of a son would carry on that family tradition.

"It wasn't to be," said Eileen. "But that never stopped George's love of animals.

"He always helped out on the farm, and remember that was at a time when Down's syndrome was looked on as a stigma. Things were very different, but we never hid him away. We allowed him to enjoy life and he thrived on it."

George is now an avid collector of cuddly toys, and was delighted to receive a new toy dog on his 76th.

"When I dropped off a few presents for him last week the staff at the home brought him down to the door so I was able to get a quick chat with him across the car park," she said.

"He never changes and he's been such a blessing for our family."

Belfast Telegraph