Strabane comes to standstill as Pat Gillespie (102) is laid to rest
Hundreds of people turned out in Strabane to bid their unofficial 'King' a fond farewell yesterday.
Pat Gillespie passed away at the age of 102 on Sunday after suffering a stroke at his Railway Street home last weekend.
His funeral procession made its way 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 Co Tyrone man passed by on its way to the Sacred Heart Church for Requiem Mass.
The procession was met at the gates of the church by a lone piper, 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'.
Mourners packed the pews, balcony and aisles of the church as Gavin, another one of Pat's grandsons, sang a number of songs, including one he wrote specially for his grandfather thanking him for "a century of memories".
Parish priest Fr 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.
"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.
"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," Fr Sweeney added.
"Every so often there'd be a bright spark and a flash of inspiration when he'd do something a little bit different. One of the things I remember was the bed he turned into a bicycle. That was a great achievement, but that was Pat, doing extraordinary things, extraordinarily well."
Fr Sweeney said that he was surprised by the host of pictures on the wall of Pat's home of his various achievements. "At the wake I asked what the host of medals and trophies displayed in the living room were for," he said. "I thought maybe Irish dancing, but his son told me they were for powerboat racing, and I looked at the photos and there was Pat, racing along the water. He represented Ireland on a number of occasions. It was just another achievement in so many.
"If he could make something out of something he would make it. He once turned a railway carriage into a caravan so that the family could have a holiday in Rossnowlagh. That takes a good bit of ingenuity and determination."
Father Sweeney said Pat was a regular at the church, visiting his wife Eileen's grave every morning for 25 years. He said nothing could stop Pat doing what he wanted, not even the police.
"Often I would see his bike parked against the hedge here at church," he said. "And I always thought, do they know he is out? But nothing was going to stop him. Even the police couldn't stop him. At 101-years-old he was pulled over by the police in the town on the scooter. They couldn't arrest a man of 101 so they told him to wear a helmet.
"When he was coming to Mass he had to be collected at 11.10am exactly. If you weren't there at 11.10am, he wasn't there at 11.11am, he was away on his scooter and away out the road. Fair play to him. He lived his life and he didn't waste it at 102 and a bit. His life did make a difference."
Following Requiem Mass Pat was laid to rest in the adjoining cemetery beside his wife Eileen.