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Tributes to man who built Northern Ireland's 'smallest church'

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Character: Rev John McConnell Auld

Character: Rev John McConnell Auld

Character: Rev John McConnell Auld

Tributes have been paid to a former mayor, teacher and minister who built what became known as Ireland's smallest church.

The Rev John McConnell Auld from Holywood, known as Conn, passed away peacefully in the Ulster Hospital on Tuesday at the age of 90.

A family notice said he would be sadly missed by Claire, Clifford, Caroline, Helen, Janet and the entire family circle.

Rev Auld taught divinity at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution (Inst) between 1958-1988.

He served as an Ulster Unionist councillor from 1973 to 1988 and as mayor and deputy mayor of North Down Borough Council.

In the 1960s, he built the tiny St Gobban's Church at his summer home in the townland of Portbradden on the north coast.

Measuring just 11ft 4in by 6ft 9in, it once hosted the wedding of a four-star US general and was used to raise over £100,000 for charity over the years before being demolished by a new owner in 2017.

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The North Down DUP MLA Gordon Dunne called him "a true colourful character" who lived an active and fulfilled life.

"He was also a really passionate historian and artist who published many books which are still enjoyed today, including pieces on local history as well as taking popular walking historical guided tours across North Down and in Holywood, and was often seen right up until recently out and about enjoying his garden during periods of good weather," he said

"Conn was certainly a well known and much loved local character and he will be sadly missed by all who knew him and I would like to pass on my sympathies to his friends and extended family."

A message on the Belfast Old Instonians Association page said he was "a true gentleman and a real life enhancer".

The Belfast Telegraph picture editor Peter Rainey was taught by Rev Auld at Inst in the early 1980s.

"He was a fascinating man. At school he encouraged independent thinking as an RE teacher, but he taught it more like philosophy.

"He encouraged people to think outside the box those days and had a lot of humour and originality.

"He didn't mind if you disagreed with him and was happy to debate you. It was fascinating to have a teacher like that.

"He had the original Donald Trump hair and drove an MG sports car, so he was always totally different to all the other teachers."

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