Belfast Telegraph

Legendary 'King of Strabane' Pat Gillespie dies aged 102

Town character was famed for his madcap inventions

Pat Gillespie ran a museum from his house to showcase his wacky creations
Pat Gillespie ran a museum from his house to showcase his wacky creations
Leona O'Neill

By Leona O'Neill

A "legendary" Co Tyrone pensioner dubbed the King of Strabane - who was known for his wacky and wonderful inventions - has died aged 102.

Pat Gillespie was famed the world over for his madcap creations and once made a working car out of a bath.

He passed away in hospital yesterday morning surrounded by his family.

It is believed the father-of-eight and grandfather-of-27 suffered a stroke at his Railway Street home last week and never recovered.

Pat was a much-loved character in his home town and lived a life less ordinary.

From winning table tennis championships and speedboat racing to wacky car inventing, he 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.

Last night tributes poured in for the man affectionately known as the King of Strabane.

His grandson Gavin Kelly wrote: "You earned your rest Granda, sleep well. Thank you for being a constant inspiration."

Family friend Wendy O'Neill said: "Today we sadly tip our hats to a true 'Strabane legend' who loved everything about his home town.

"An absolute gentleman at the ripe age of 102 years of age, he will be sorely missed by all who knew him."

Pat, a long-time motor enthusiast, also drew tributes from the motoring world.

The Legendary Motor Show said: "Very sad news this morning. Our good friend Pat Gillespie from Strabane sadly passed away at the age of 102.

"Anyone that knew him knew he was a character and one of a kind. Thoughts and prayers are with his family at this sad time."

And tributes were paid from the world of politics.

Strabane SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan said that Pat loved life, loved the town and will be sorely missed. "Our community is in mourning today at the loss of one of Strabane's finest sons," he said.

"He was a kind, friendly gentleman with a great sense of humour and the energy of a man in his 20s.

"Pat loved life and loved the people of Strabane.

"His smile, friendly banter and reflection of bygone days in the stories he told will be cherished by us all and missed deeply.

"He truly was one of life's great characters, with a positive and determined view of life. What a great man. He really was one of the best."

UTV's Barbara McCann said: "Sorry to hear this. I filmed Pat for TV-AM 30 years ago. The national audience loved him so much, especially riding his penny farthing, the story was broadcast twice. He was a wonderful man."

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.

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.

As he blew his candles out that day, he told the Belfast Telegraph his secret to long life.

"My time is occupied and I think that is a real secret to my long life, as well as laughing," he said.

"I make sure and laugh every day and I keep my mind occupied. I have plenty to keep my mind going here. I have my bikes to look after and my museum.

"I keep fit, I eat very little but I eat often. I don't drink or smoke, I don't have the time for it.

"I love talking to people. I think keeping my mind occupied with things, such as sports, inventing and making and breaking things, keeps me going.

"I always have a few inventions in the pipeline, top-secret things.

"I love to see a smile on people's faces, I love to hear people laugh. I've no time for doom and gloom. I don't believe in rocking chairs and sitting with carpet slippers on."

At the time Pat said he wouldn't do a single thing differently if he had to live his 102 years all over again.

"I had a good life," he said. "I really enjoyed life. I feel very good today, I don't feel old at all. I feel about 38-and-a-half and I can still touch my toes.

"I don't take vitamins or any health supplement, I think that laughter is the best medicine.

"I have family who are very, very good to me. I have friends coming in here to me every day and we have a great laugh about the old days. That keeps me young. I've had some life."

At 102 Pat cycled every day to his beloved wife Eileen's grave in Strabane, even until he fell ill. He is survived by his eight children, 27 grandchildren and 31 great-grandchildren.

Pat's wake will take place at his Railway Road home from noon today. His funeral will take place tomorrow at 10am at Sacred Heart Church in Strabane.

Belfast Telegraph

From Belfast Telegraph