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Grand niece leads the political tributes to Barney Eastwood

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Contribution: Barney Eastwood

Contribution: Barney Eastwood

Contribution: Barney Eastwood

Alliance councillor Sorcha Eastwood has paid tribute to her grand uncle Barney as a "giant of a man" who showcased the best of Northern Ireland in his role as a boxing promoter.

His funeral will take place in Holywood on Friday. Mr Eastwood will be buried in Redburn Cemetery following Requiem Mass at St Colmcille's Church.

The ex-boxing manager and bookmaker died aged 87 on Monday. Ms Eastwood tweeted: "Such sad news that my grand uncle, Barney Eastwood, has passed away. A giant of a man, passionate about sport, business, people and this place.

"An absolute gent who showcased the best of us and the best of what we could be."

MLAs from across the political divide paid tribute to Mr Eastwood at Stormont yesterday.

SDLP Lagan Valley MLA and former publican Pat Catney described the former boxing promoter as a "beacon of light at a very dark time".

Mr Catney said: "I first met Barney in 1974 when I ran the Liverpool Bar in Belfast docks.

"He would come in for a coffee and a chat with bookmaker Alfie McClean.

"I was a young man, trying to build his business, and Barney was well-established. He was very generous with his time and his advice. I always looked forward to his visits. Barney was a beacon of light at a very dark time in Northern Ireland.

"At the height of the Troubles, he created a stable of world-class boxers who beat the best in the world. That was no mean feat.

"He brought life and vibrancy to Belfast at a time when awful atrocities were occu0rring."

Mr Catney added: "We sold tickets in the Liverpool Bar for Barney's fight nights in the Ulster Hall. His after-fight parties on the 11th floor of the Europa Hotel were legendary."

Ulster Unionist MLA Mike Nesbitt said: "As a sports reporter, I was there when Barry McGuigan won the featherweight title at Loftus Road in London in 1985.

"I lived in Bangor at the time, and Barry used to stay in a B&B just round the corner on the seafront. One night ahead of the fight, I saw Barry and Barney out for a walk. I invited them round to my house.

"Barry had a cup of tea and Barney had a Black Bush whiskey. I remember sitting there in my front room, listening to the unassuming wisdom from this amazing man.

"He was spell-binding. I could have listened to him all night."

Mr Nesbitt added: "Barney was just an ordinary bloke but he was so driven. His gym was one of the most prestigious in the world. That did wonders for Northern Ireland's reputation at a time when we were known for all things bad."

The UUP MLA said that Mr Eastwood had started a chain of betting shops which he later sold for more than £100m.

"He had a tremendous entrepreneurial spirit," he said.

"He understood people and he knew how to get the best out of them. He was a real gentleman," he added.

Mr Eastwood is survived by his wife Frances, daughter Fiona and sons Brian, Peter, Adrian, Stephen and Fearghal.

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