'He lived a good and long life' - King of Strabane Pat Gillespie laid to rest aged 102
Hundreds of people turned out in Strabane to bid their unofficial ‘King’ a fond farewell on Tuesday.
Pat passed away at the age of 102 on Saturday after suffering a stroke at his Railway Street home last weekend.
His funeral procession walked slowly through the town he loved so much, following a similar path to the St Patrick’s Day parade that the centenarian led in his top hat and tails every year.
Shops and businesses closed and staff filed out into the street as the funeral cortege for the much-loved Strabane man passed by on its way to the Sacred Heart Church for Requiem Mass.
The procession was met at the gates by a lone bagpiper, Pat’s grandson Aidan, who played ‘The Leaving of Liverpool’ as his grandfather’s coffin was carried into the church, past his beloved motorised scooter with the registration ‘Pat 100’.
Parish Priest Gerry Sweeney spoke with fondness for the man who was as ingenious as he was mischievous.
“On many a Sunday I’d be standing at the front of the church chatting to Pat’s family,” he told mourners.
“I remember asking them once if their Dad had his bike today and they said that no, someone had collected him. And around the side of the church on his scooter would come Pat, out the gates and away he went, his family left standing saying ‘oh no, he has escaped again!’
“He lived a good and long life. He has been an inspiration to many people. His life began in 1916 and we could think of all the history he has lived through, seen and experienced."
Fr Sweeney said that Pat had experienced massive changes to Strabane in his lifetime.
“He has witnessed many changes in this town as he grew from boy to man, fell in love with Eileen and had a family. And that family of eight children grew to 27 grandchildren and 39 and a half great grandchildren. In another month’s time he will have another great grandchild," he said.
"And he has left behind that legacy, not just to his family but his community. Especially when things were bad in the past and people were down because of the Troubles. Every so often there would be a bright spark and a flash of inspiration when Pat would do something a little bit different.
"One of the things I remember seeing was the bed he turned into a bicycle. That was a great achievement. But that was Pat, doing extraordinary things, extraordinarily well.”
From winning table tennis championships and speedboat racing to wacky car inventing, Pat has been recalled as a laughter-loving man who led out the town's St Patrick's Day parade every year.
Pat ran his own museum at the side of his home, which had a collection of cars and 32 bikes, plus number plates from all over the world and miniature vehicles, a double-fronted Mini Cooper and cars fashioned from baths.
His museum walls featured pictures of everyone who met him - among them Terry Wogan, Harry Secombe, Jean Kennedy Smith, John Mills and Arlene Foster.
Born in 1916, Pat lived through two World Wars, partition and the Troubles.
He featured frequently in the media, many times for his inventions and to relive parts of history long forgotten.
He was the centre of attention again in October 2017 when he was robbed in his home.
Just weeks before his 101st birthday, Pat endured a horrific ordeal when he was tied to his chair in his kitchen by masked men and robbed.
True to form, the Strabane super-pensioner vowed not to let the harrowing experience get him down, and was back laughing again in days, buoyed by the support he received from all over the world after his story appeared in the pages of the Belfast Telegraph.
Weeks later he celebrated his 102nd birthday and was inundated with cards sent by well-wishers, from Irish President Michael D Higgins to people from as far away as Japan and Switzerland, who had read of his ordeal.
Belfast Telegraph Digital