'Full of life and fun' ... tributes paid to Northern Ireland chef who conquered Kilimanjaro
The family of a Co Down chef who lost his battle with cancer just months after climbing Africa's highest mountain is taking comfort in the many tributes flooding in from around the world.
Kieran McNally (39) passed away in Belfast City Hospital surrounded by his four siblings on Saturday - six months after raising money for a rugby charity by reaching the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro, which sits 5,895m above sea level.
"He was so strong and so brave right up until the end and we are very proud of him," his devastated sister Teresa said.
"He hadn't been well when he did the climb in January but he didn't know it was cancer."
Irish rugby legends Stephen Ferris, Mike McCarthy, Marcus Horan and Shane Byrne were all involved in the IRFU's Charitable Trust fundraising expedition, which raised over £100,000.
"There were some big, strong fit men who struggled to get up that mountain, but Kieran was one of the first ones to reach the summit," Teresa said.
The passionate foodie, who spent five years living in Australia, had been attending his GP since the previous September and knew something was wrong with his health when he embarked on the challenge.
But by the time doctors discovered a tumour in his bowel the disease had spread to his liver and lungs.
Kieran's family believed they had been thrown a lifeline when he was offered several bouts of radiotherapy treatment. However it proved to be ineffective.
"Unfortunately cancer had other ideas," Teresa said.
"He went very quickly and it was all very peaceful.
"We will look back on it as his happy ending."
She hailed her brother, who also spend time travelling in Canada and Thailand, as "a good lad so full of life and fun".
Despite his itchy feet, Kieran had started to settle down in Rostrevor after landing what his dad Louis described as the "perfect" job in Warrenpoint.
"Food was what he was good at," he said.
"He got a nine-to-five job in the Sweet Pea Cafe and he loved working there.
"He only passed his driving test last year and had just bought a wee car - everything was going great until this.
"But it all got turned on its head - when you get told your child has cancer it's heartbreaking.
"Kieran was a beautiful boy inside and out and he brought so much happiness and joy to our family."
The entire family - including Kieran's mum Margaret and brothers Noel, Stephen and Martin - are taking huge comfort from the countless stories and tributes pouring in from around the globe.
"One girl said she spent four hours with him in an airport and he changed her life," Teresa said.
"He was just a funny lad and we hope to hear more stories about him."
Many people have shared moving tributes on social media praising the "small guy who left a huge shadow".
"I still can't believe you're gone," one friend from Oregon in the US wrote on Facebook.
"I only knew you for six months but you still light my life full of laughs.
"I keep thinking, 'I wish I could go back in time to tell you what is going to happen' so you could live every day like your last... but you already did - you became part of so many stories."
Another pal from Thai island Phuket expressed sadness as he offered condolences to Kieran's friends and family.
A French friend said there is always a place in people's hearts for someone like Kieran.
"Those people who have brought us joy, love, kindness, laugh," the friend added.
"Despite their departures, they still live in these happy memories that make us smile when we share them."
Italian woman Federica, who Kieran met while working in Australia, attended his funeral on Tuesday.
The pair became close friends and she moved to Belfast to continue her career as a teacher.
"She adored Kieran and we all came to adore her," Teresa said.
"They always greeted each other with their favourite phrase 'ciao amore'."
Kieran was laid to rest in Kilbroney Cemetery in Rostrevor on Tuesday following Requiem Mass in St Mary's Star of the Sea Church.
His dad described the service as "a beautiful tribute" to his son and thanked members of St Bronagh's GAA Club who formed a guard of honour outside the church.
The most moving tribute came from Federica when she leaned over her friend's grave and uttered "ciao amore" for the very last time.