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Obituary: Father Oliver Kennedy

Doughty priest who helped set up thriving Lough Neagh eel fishery

Father Oliver P Kennedy, who has died aged 83, was a major figure in setting up the Toome wild eel fishery, which is the biggest in Europe. Oliver Plunkett Kennedy was born in west Belfast in 1930 and educated at St Malachy's College, Queen's University and Maynooth.

He was ordained as a priest in Down and Connor in 1954 and served as a curate in Derriaghy.

He was later a chaplain at the Dominican Convent in Portstewart and was then appointed curate at Tyrella and Dundrum, which included the Army base in Ballykinler.

In 1961 he became curate of the Duneane Parish at Toomebridge, where he lived for the rest of his life.

For 50 years he was chairman of the Lough Neagh Fishermen's Co-Operative Society, which was established in 1963.

Originally, the eel fishing rights were owned by a consortium of Dutch and English merchants based in Billingsgate, London.

The Toome co-operative bought a fifth of the shares and eventually gained control of the eel fishing rights, which resulted in a significant increase in prices for local fishermen.

When the co-operative took over, the emphasis changed from silver eels to the more extensive production of brown eels, which led to greater employment opportunities.

The trade in brown eels was particularly lucrative, with 80% being exported to the Dutch and German markets, where smoked eel is a delicacy.

The other 20% was exported to Billingsgate for the jellied eels trade.

Following his retirement from the work of the parish in 1988, Fr Kennedy took up full-time employment with the co-operative which he had helped to found and which had made such an important economic contribution to the local community.

Pat Close, secretary of the Lough Neagh Fishermen's Co- Operative, said Fr Kennedy was held in the highest esteem.

He said: "I worked with him closely for 25 years.

"He was a quiet, pleasant person and a very shrewd businessman.

"He had a core of steel when doing business and, if he believed in something strongly, he could certainly fight his corner well.

"There is a deep sense of loss among the hundreds of people whose lives he touched in more than five decades of service to the local community."

Fr Kennedy is survived by a number of cousins and the wider family.

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