Mrs Moira O’Neill, who has died, was the proprietor of the Londonderry Arms Hotel in Carnlough for 70 years, which was the longest hotel ownership by a single family in Northern Ireland. She was 94.
Mrs O’Neill, nee McCaul, was born in Scotland of Irish parents, and she moved back with her father, sister and brother in her late teens to live in the Moy, Co Tyrone.
There she met Frank O’Neill, a noted footballer and apple grower. After their marriage they bought the Londonderry Arms Hotel in Carnlough which once belonged to the family of Sir Winston Churchill.
It became well-known for its character and high standards, and also its contribution to tourism in Northern Ireland.
The early years were spent building up the business just after the end of the Second World War and Mrs O’Neill travelled widely throughout Ireland and Scotland to secure supplies and beverages.
As the business developed, the Londonderry Arms provided valuable continuous employment in an area where jobs were scarce.
The prolonged Troubles created major challenges to hoteliers everywhere and Frank and Moira O’Neill, who worked tirelessly to build the tourism and hospitality industry, were founder members of the Antrim Coast Road Hotels and Caterers’ Association, during a period when the industry was little recognised.
Mrs O’Neill was also a member of the NI Tourist Board and the Catering Industry Training Board. As a member of the NI Water Council and a Governor of St MacNissi’s College she shared her experience and expertise across the economic and educational sectors.
In 1998 she was appointed MBE for her contribution to the social and economic life of Northern Ireland. Mrs O’Neill was a charming and elegant woman who was liked and greatly respected by everyone she met in her business life, and well beyond it.
Her daughter Marnie, in paying tribute on behalf of the family, said: “She was a gifted and hardworking businesswoman, a talented chef, interior designer and a flower arranger.
“She loved art, antiques, local history and the natural world, and also going to the races. She was an impeccable classic dresser who loved fashion, but above all good company.
“She was always gracious and dignified, and will be remembered as a warm-hearted, generous, fiercely-determined and wise lady.”
Mrs O’Neill is survived by her adult children Marnie, Francine, Liam, Siobhan, Patricia and Celine, and by her grandchildren Ciara, Hugo, Francesca, Iona and Roisa. She was predeceased by her husband Frank and their sons Frankie and Con.