Belfast Telegraph

Moira folk are made up for the down-to-earth EuroMillionaires in their midst

Moira, the home of EuroMillions winners the Connollys
Moira, the home of EuroMillions winners the Connollys
The couple’s home in Moira
Patrick and Frances Connolly
Bernie Baine
Gareth Campbell
Toni Sommerville with her sons Blake (6) and Robbie (9)
Heather Dobbin, Brenda Baig and Fiona Hutchinson
Ivan Little

By Ivan Little

You would have had more chance of winning the lottery in Moira yesterday than of finding anyone particularly well-acquainted with the village's new EuroMillionaires.

For even the next door neighbour of Frances and Paddy Connolly in the oddly named Saint Inns development admitted that she had never met them or even seen them.

Another woman just a few doors away said she wouldn't have been able to put a face on the couple until she saw them on the TV yesterday morning talking about their £115m bonanza.

Throughout the upmarket village bordering counties Down and Armagh, the irony was that Moira's new best-known residents are also among its least known.

Which is maybe not surprising considering the fact that the Connollys - who are originally from Strabane and Belfast respectively - only moved to Moira a few years back after spending a quarter-of-a-century in England.

And their social interaction has also been restricted by self-confessed "talker" Frances' mobility problems, caused by a serious leg injury that she said has hampered her usual ability to make new friends as easily as she usually did everywhere else she had gone.

But even though so few villagers appeared to be even on nodding terms with the Connollys, everyone in Moira was wishing them well yesterday.

They were also wishing they had got to know them better to earn a place on the Connollys' list of 50 friends and family who will benefit from their largesse, revealed at a news conference in the Culloden Hotel.

It was there that the couple admitted not many of the fortunate 50 were living in their new surroundings of Moira, and that as well as their three daughters and family members, some of the handouts would go to their old friends in the north east of England, where they had lived.

But the disclosures didn't dampen enthusiasm for the Connollys in the village.

"I think it's fantastic that they're going to help so many other people by giving them a slice of their cake," said Eleanor Johnston, who was on a shopping trip from her home in nearby Lisburn. "But I can only feel sorry for the person who's 51st on the list."

One man joked that he was thinking of having a DNA test to see if he could convince the Connollys that he was a long-lost relative.

At the Connollys' rented home, just a few minutes stroll from the centre of the village, the couple's cars were still in the driveway of the end-of-terrace mock Georgian house, which is by no means the biggest in the estate.

"I assume they were chauffeur-driven to the Culloden," said one man. "And besides, I think they could have afforded to get themselves a taxi."

A motley collection of different coloured and recently emptied bins sat outside the house, where the curtains were drawn, and it was clear the Connollys hadn't returned from their celebrations at the luxury hotel.

One woman, who didn't want to be named, said a friend of hers from Portadown had rented the house to the couple. "But they could probably buy the whole development now," she laughed.

A woman who was returning home next door to the Connollys' house didn't even know it was her neighbours who had scooped the fourth largest lottery win in the UK.

She said: "We only moved in here a short time ago and we don't know the neighbours."

Another nearby householder said she only found out about the jackpot after a journalist knocked on her door. "I don't know them to see and I certainly haven't noticed any unusual activity at the house," she added. "But we are all thrilled for them.

"Judging by what they had to say at the Culloden, they seem like a wonderful couple."

The comment reflected how many people in Moira felt about the Connollys, whose down-to-earth and funny personalities shone through in their live media interviews and won over the villagers, who were impressed that the couple were planning to help so many other people not only with their giveaways but also with their suggestions that they might start a Dragons' Den-style initiative to help small businesses in Northern Ireland.

Their generosity was, it was pointed out, in keeping with the Greek origin of the name Moira, which means 'destiny, share and fate'.

In the village yesterday afternoon the lucky couple were the talk of the place and it was almost impossible to walk down the main street without encountering local and national TV crews who, at one point, were suggesting that they might interview each other, such was the lack of people who could give them chapter and verse about the family.

Inside what is Moira's arguably most famous butcher's shop, McCartneys, it emerged that the couple had been regular customers.

Staff were thrilled that in a number of interviews Frances Connolly talked enthusiastically about the range of "fantastic food outlets" in "fantastic" Moira.

She name-checked McCartneys and the village's award-winning restaurant Wine And Brine.

In McCartneys cafe, assistant Bernie Baine said she recognised Patrick Connolly instantly on the television and remembered serving him and his wife in the upstairs coffee shop.

"I was ecstatic for them," said Bernie.

"And I just hope they were happy with my service here in McCartneys. Who knows, they might come back and give me a wee tip."

Delicatessen counter worker David Campbell said he knew the Connollys' faces and added that he was cautiously chuffed for them.

"I don't think I would have gone public if I'd won that much money," he added.

"Mind you, £115m would be hard to keep secret and hide yourself away."

David's son Gareth couldn't resist a wisecrack. "I lent yer man a tenner a while ago. And he still hasn't paid me back," he said, before insisting to his customers that he was only joking.

Outside the shop local man Raymond Wilson said he was happy for the pair, adding: "I saw them on the box and they came across on the telly as a lovely, well-grounded couple.

"A lot of the winners from this part of the world have been brilliant people. I can still remember the Belfast bus driver turned millionaire Peter Lavery being asked about begging letters. And he said that he was still going to send them."

Jacinta Jennings said: "I didn't even know the winners were from Moira. I overheard people talking about the £115m jackpot and I was amazed that the couple are from this part of the world. I just wish it was me who got the cheque, though maybe it's too much."

Businessman Colin Phillips, who owns the Ladybird Promotions, said he didn't know the Connollys, but he added: "I am overjoyed for them. I don't know what I would do with that much money.

"I've never actually thought about it, but I suppose like everyone else I would plump for the usual - the new house, the new car and the big holidays."

The buzz yesterday was about where in the village they had bought the winning ticket.

The speculation only ended after word spread that Paddy Connolly had bought a lucky dip - a very lucky dip - online.

But in a number of shops there was still a rush to get in on the act in the hope that lottery lightning could strike twice.

Toni Sommerville, who was shopping with her sons Robbie (9) and Blake (6) was trying to get over the shock that someone from the area had become mega-rich overnight.

And her astonishment soared after she found out where the winners lived - in the same development as her.

"But I haven't a clue about them," she said. "I don't think I have ever seen them. But I say fair play to them. Good for them. It's great. I think I would do what they're doing, and give a lot of the money away to friends and to charities."

Three friends in Moira were united in their excitement for the lucky winners.

Heather Dobbin said: "It must be a remarkable feeling to find you have so much money. But your health is your wealth, too."

Brenda Baig said: "From what I hear they've raised their family and they deserve all the luck they've had."

Fiona Hutchinson said: "I would love to be one of the 50 folk on the Connollys' list. It's just a pity I don't know them."

One motorist held up in the constant traffic jams that bedevil Moira said if the Connollys had any spare millions left after helping their friends and family they could assist the village ... by funding a new bypass.

"That really would be money well spent," he said.

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