Tributes for young hurler Pearce Branagan - 'a true gentleman'
A Co Down GAA club last night paid a heartfelt tribute to one of its players who died suddenly at the weekend.
Senior hurler Pearce Branagan, who played for Clonduff GAC in Hilltown, passed away after suffering a cardiac seizure on Saturday evening, his club reported.
Mr Branagan, aged 23, was understood to have only recently embarked on his teaching career at St Malachy's Primary School in Kilcoo, where he taught P5 and P6 pupils.
Anita Brannigan, Clonduff GAC secretary, said Mr Branagan was a "fine young man who always had a big smile on his face".
"Clonduff club is doing their utmost to support the family at this very difficult time," she told the Belfast Telegraph.
"A book of condolences is being opened in the clubhouse for the entire community to show their respect."
In a separate statement released within hours of the tragedy, Clonduff GAC said on its Facebook page it was with "deep sadness and devastation" that they announced the "untimely passing" of Mr Branagan.
They also offered their condolences to Mr Branagan's family, including his parents Tony and Terri, who live in Hilltown, as well as his siblings Padraig, Lorcan and Caitlin and his girlfriend Ellen.
Dozens of Facebook messages posted by members of the local community also expressed their deepest sympathies to the family of Mr Branagan, who was described as a "true gentleman" and a very gifted teacher.
"The children of St Malachy's and their families are devastated," read one post. "Our prayers and thoughts are with his family at this sad time."
Mr Branagan was also described as a "credit to his family" in another post, while one woman, whose child was one of Mr Branagan's pupils, said that her daughter had "truly adored" her late teacher and "thought the world of him".
"He was such a huge influence on her and she was inspired to try her very best by his gentle and encouraging manner," she explained. In a gesture of respect Clonduff GAC has cancelled all club activities until further notice.
Meanwhile, local SDLP councillor Gillian Fitzpatrick said she was heartbroken for the Branagan family and extended her deepest condolences to them.
"It's tragic and so very, very sad for the family, the community and for Clonduff, particularly for his team-mates. They're like a family," said the Newry, Mourne and Down District Council member.
Her comments were echoed by South Down MP Chris Hazzard who said: "This is a tragic time for the Branagan family, and indeed, the whole Clonduff community. I'm sure their hearts are breaking today."