Belfast Telegraph

Heartbroken parents pay moving tribute to son Niall O'Connor (14) who 'had world at his feet'

By Brett Campbell

The grieving parents of a "handsome, smart and sporty" teenager who died suddenly have paid tribute to their son, saying he "had the world at his feet".

Niall O'Connor (14) was found unresponsive at his home in Portaferry, Co Down, on Thursday evening

Members of the nearby Ballygalget GAA club, which Niall had belonged to since he was five, rushed to the house with a defibrillator as the emergency services made their way to the scene.

The teenager was transferred to hospital by air ambulance, but desperate attempts to resuscitate him failed and he was pronounced dead a short time later.

Yesterday as his heartbroken mother Caroline waited for her son to return home for the final time, she fixed her mind on the abundance of happy memories Niall gave the family, including his nine-year-old sister Ciara.

"I'm just completely devastated," she said.

"He gave us 14 years of sheer happiness and joy, so many years of being an amazing son.

"We have to think about those fabulous years, in order to get through the days ahead."

Niall's devastated father John said his son had everything to live for.

"He was involved in every sport that was going, but he had a real passion for hurling, football, golf, soccer and the occasional spot of sailing," he said.

"But he wasn't just a passionate sportsman, he was top of the class, a grade A student with the world at his feet."

A pupil at Our Lady and St Patrick's Knock, his parents recalled how Niall excelled in Gaelic football, helping the senior school team secure victory in an Ulster Schools cup final when he was only in first year.

"His teacher and all the pupils cheered him on after he scored the winning goal," his mother added.

"If you had lined up 100 people, you would never think this would happen to him.

"He was beautiful, handsome, sporty and smart - he really had everything going for him."

Mr and Mrs O' Connor praised the emergency services, air ambulance and GAA club for doing everything they could to save Niall.

"The emergency services and local community were amazing, but ultimately there was nothing they could do," they said.

A statement posted on its Facebook page said that everyone at Ballygalget GAC and throughout the community had been left "devastated to learn of the untimely death of our young Gael Niall O'Connor".

It added: "Our most sincere thoughts and prayers are with Niall's parents John and Caroline, his sister Ciara, extended family, teammates and friends.

"Ar Dheis De go raibh a anam."

SDLP councillor Joe Boyle, who knows the O'Connor family well, said there was a "numbness" running throughout the Ards Peninsula following Niall's sudden death.

"This tragedy has caused a dark cloud to hang over all of us and it is something that no one would have expected," he said.

"This was a boy who was full of life and was always part of everything that was going on.

"He had a good source of friends and was an active member of the GAA community."

Mr Boyle said he was confident that Ballygalget GAC and others will step up and be a source of strength and comfort to the O'Connor family.

"We are an isolated rural community and GAA clubs throughout the peninsula will pull together," he said.

"They can be a real rock for people in times of trouble.

"I would like to offer my sincere condolences and prayers to the entire family on behalf of the whole community."

Niall's body will be waked at the family home on Tullymally Road over the weekend.

His remains will be taken from the house on Monday at 10.30am for Requiem Mass at St Patrick's Church in Ballygalget at 11am, followed by interment in the adjoining cemetery.

If you or someone you know is in distress or despair, call Lifeline on 0808 808 8000. This is a confidential service, where trained counsellors will listen and help immediately on the phone and follow up with other support if necessary. The helpline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Belfast Telegraph

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