Tributes to Geraldine Donnelly who was ‘a mum in a million’
The mother of an IRA murder victim has paid tribute to a former SDLP councillor who died suddenly on holiday.
Breege Quinn said she was heartbroken by the death of Crossmaglen woman Geraldine Donnelly, who had "given her all" in her efforts to help the family secure justice.
Mrs Donnelly died on Saturday in Ibiza, where she was on holiday with her husband Sean, daughter Karen, son-in-law Tony and four grandchildren. The 69-year-old had felt ill during her flight to the island the previous day.
Another daughter, Sandra Hughes, told the Belfast Telegraph the family were devastated by the death of "our wonderful, warm-hearted mother who was a woman of the utmost integrity and courage".
Mrs Donnelly stepped down after 11 years as an SDLP member of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council in 2016. In the 2011 election, she had topped the poll with 1,681 votes in the Slieve Gullion ward.
Her body cannot be brought home until after an autopsy is carried out in Ibiza, probably on Wednesday or Thursday.
Mrs Quinn, whose son Paul was beaten to death by the IRA in a border shed in 2007, broke down in tears as she recalled how the SDLP woman had helped her family.
"When Geraldine heard what had happened to Paul, she was in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda as soon as we were. That was the sort of her. She couldn't do enough for anybody who needed help.
"Day and daily, Geraldine put herself out to help others, even after she retired as a councillor.
"I feel like I have lost a sister. She never forgot about us. Just a fortnight ago, she asked myself and my husband Stephen to go out with her and Sean for a meal."
Mrs Quinn said that Mrs Donnelly had accompanied her family to meetings with politicians and gardai in their justice campaign. "She stood head and shoulders above other elected representatives in this area," she added.
Mrs Donnelly had previously worked for the International Fund for Ireland in Newry and ran the Cosy Corner playgroup in Crossmaglen.
Her daughter Sandra Hughes said: "My mother loved children. She stood down as a councillor so she could spend more time with her grandchildren whom she worshipped.
"She was a mum in a million. She had to leave school at 14, so she totally valued education and wanted the best for us. Being an SDLP representative in the area was challenging and, at times, isolating but she was a hugely principled woman, and honest to a fault.
"She was a peace-maker. She loved people and went out of her way to help everyone."
Former SDLP vice-chairman Tom Kelly said: "Geraldine had grace, gentleness and generosity in spades.
"She also was stoic, strong and unwavering - sometimes against threats and intimidation. As a mother her instincts motivated her to respond with compassion and empathy. As a politician, Geraldine's guide was her heart."
The Wave Trauma Centre paid tribute to Mrs Donnelly's support in the search for Crossmaglen men Gerard Evans and Charlie Armstrong, who were 'disappeared' by the IRA.
Crossmaglen Rangers tweeted its sadness at the SDLP woman's death, describing her as "a loyal supporter, member and close friend of Crossmaglen Rangers".
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said he was "shocked and deeply saddened" to hear of Mrs Donnelly's death. "Words cannot do her kind, warm and generous spirit justice," he added.
Former UUP MLA Danny Kennedy tweeted: "I'm shocked and saddened at the sudden and untimely death of Geraldine who was a really lovely person - always gracious and kind."
Local independent unionist councillor Henry Reilly said: "Geraldine was a true lady in every way. She was diligent in her duties as a councillor and represented the people of South Armagh with great energy and distinction."
Sinn Fein MLA Megan Fearon tweeted: "So sorry to hear of Geraldine Donnelly's untimely passing. She was a well respected representative of the South Armagh community for years. She was warm, friendly and very easy to work with."
Mrs Donnelly is survived by her husband Sean, children Niall, Sandra and Karen, and 10 grandchildren.