Belfast Telegraph

Tributes flow as fashion industry stunned by death of Belfast model Mairead O'Neill

‘A lovely girl who had her whole life ahead of her’

By Victoria Leonard

The boss of a Belfast modelling agency has said that a 21-year-old model who died suddenly on Monday was a "lovely young girl" who "had her whole life ahead of her".

Tributes have been paid to Mairead O'Neill, who was from the Markets area of Belfast and had worked for top local agency CMPR Models for five years.

In addition to modelling at several Belfast Fashion Week events, Mairead had worked at a Carl Frampton fight at the SSE Arena and had founded her own make-up business.

The death is the second tragedy to strike Mairead's family after her mother Karen Pelan passed away from bowel cancer just 10 months ago.

Police said that they had attended the scene of a sudden death of a woman in the south Belfast area on Monday, and are not treating the death as suspicious.

A GoFundMe page which was set up to help the young woman's family cover her funeral costs had raised almost £7,000 in less than 24 hours at the time of going to press.

CMPR Models founder and director Cathy Martin described Mairead as a "vivacious" but "fragile" young woman who was "hurting" after her mother's death.

"She was a lovely young girl, she had her whole life ahead of her," she told the Belfast Telegraph. "She was one of our models at the agency and had worked for us since she was about 16. She had loads of potential.

"She was hurting from her mum's death, her mum had passed away due to bowel cancer, and she had always been a great anchor for Mairead.

"She was quite vivacious but also quite fragile, just a young girl, a classic mix of all the emotions which a 21-year-old girl has."

Cathy said that Mairead's fellow models had been left stunned by the news of her passing.

"We have a private group account and the girls are very shocked and they are exchanging lovely messages and stories about Mairead," she said. "They are trying to support each other at this difficult time.

"I told them that it's really important that if they want to reach out to me that they could."

In addition to her modelling career, Cathy said that Mairead had also been a student and had worked in retail.

And having received several messages commenting on Mairead's beauty, Cathy was keen to highlight that "looks have absolutely zero" to do with mental health.

"It doesn't matter if she was beautiful - beautiful people can be sad, they can be depressed," she said.

"I have had so many people message me to say that she was so beautiful, but mental health issues don't leave you alone just because you're beautiful.

"It goes beyond the modelling industry.

"Mental health issues have no boundaries, whether you are a model, an actor or a member of the public.

"It's important that people do really speak to the people around them.

"You really need to be proactive in reaching out to friends.

"My thoughts and prayers are with Mairead's family."

Shortly after news of Mairead's death broke, her late mother's friend Julie Rooney set up a GoFundMe page in order to help the grieving family meet the funeral costs.

Extending her sympathies to Mairead's brother Brendan and sister Bronagh, Julie wrote: "As it's the mouth of Christmas and I know people are struggling financially as it is, every little helps.

"These kids have no means of affording a funeral, and the last thing they need is a funeral bill on top of their doubly painful heartbreak.

"I'm hoping that with people's help we can make it a tiny bit easier."

Appealing for support, Julie said that the situation was "extra hard for two siblings that are already grieving and missing the rock of their family".

"They have went from a family of four to a family of two in just 10 short months," she added. "RIP beautiful girl."

Details of Mairead's funeral had not been released at the time of going to press.

  • To donate to the fundraising campaign, visit:

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