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Lord Ballyedmond death: A complex man who, despite those titles, did not forget humble roots


It was a dark and foggy evening on Thursday when former shop boy-turned-multi-millionaire Lord Ballyedmond set out for Northern Ireland. Through his business and political commitments, the 70-year-old frequently used his private helicopter to travel back and forth between his luxury homes in England and the province.

He took off from his stately pile at Gillingham, near Beccles in Norfolk, around 7.30pm.

With him was Declan Small, a site foreman from Mayobridge who he had flown over to England for carry out some work, along with pilots Captain Carl Dickerson and Captain Lee Hoyle.

But the foursome barely made it off the ground amid the swirling mist before disaster struck.

Neighbours heard a loud bang from the grounds of the country estate.

They immediately called the emergency services, who rushed to the estate to find the remains of the aircraft scattered across a large distance.

None of those inside could be saved.

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As news of the tragedy spread across the British Isles yesterday evening, nowhere were the reverberations felt stronger than in Newry.

His friend, Newry and Armagh Sinn Fein MP Conor Murphy, spoke of the shock felt in the community.

The peer may have been of international renown, but it was in his home circles where he soared from humble beginnings to become Northern Ireland's richest man.

Conor's father Des, a chemist in Newry, frequently recalled an eager young Eddie Haughey working as a shop boy in the Co Down town.

He went to the United States as a young man and returned home with ambitious plans.

Des gave him his first order for animal medicines and from there the budding entrepreneur soared. He built his first factory on the Co Armagh side of Newry, close to the train station.

But he never forgot his roots, and he never forgot Des Murphy, who got him started.

Conor recalled how when his father died a car appeared at the funeral with a large floral tribute. As the Sinn Fein man rose himself firstly as MP for Newry and Armagh, and then as Regional Development Minister at Stormont, he got to know Lord Ballyedmond better in his own right.

Despite their political differences, the pair built up a warm friendship.

"He was a strange character in some ways, but very warm; a complex man. I remember in the middle of the big freeze issue he actually wrote me a private letter offering me support," he said.

"It was a little bit strange a Unionist and Conservative peer to a Sinn Fein minister, but that was the type of character he was. He had his own views on things, but he didn't dislike people or disrespect them because their views were different.

"He respected the person."

But what the MP admired most about the peer was his loyalty to the Newry and south Armagh areas.

Part of this was talent spotting young workers. He would have flown talented tradesmen and chefs across the British Isles to work for him. He also worked with the educational sector in the Newry area, encouraging students to do science so they would avail of the opportunities in his business. "I am sure he perhaps had inducements over the years to relocate his business but he stayed very, very loyal to here," he added.

"He was a south Armagh man and a Newry man. I don't think he forgot he had quite humble roots. Although he went on to gather titles, he didn't forget where he came from.

"I know quite a few lads round here who were tradesmen, and if he thought you were a good enough tradesman he would have flown you over to England to do work there. He was very meticulous and demanding about the sort of job he wanted done.

"If you were a good tradesman or a good chef he would have kept you in his employ and taken you around, flying in helicopters or driving in fancy cars, where he wanted you to be working. For those who got on well with him, they were well looked after by him."

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