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Undertaker Dougal who became a familiar figure of Troubles passes away

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Hugh JP Dougal, who was probably Northern Ireland's best known undertaker, has died after a short illness. He was in his early 70s.

Mr Dougal, who was the third generation of his family to be involved with the Belfast undertakers' firm of O'Kanes, was proprietor of the business.

He retired a few years ago but still kept a close eye on the family firm, helping out with funerals on occasion.

His face was featured often in newspaper and television coverage of funerals during the Troubles, making him a familiar sight to viewers right across Northern Ireland.

In an interview with this newspaper to mark the 150th anniversary of the firm in 2015, Mr Dougal recalled those dark days.

For not only was his company called upon for the funerals of many of those killed in the conflict, but for 30 years it had a contract with the coroner's office to collect the bodies of all those victims.

Given the nature of the Troubles, bombings as well as shootings, it was at times a gruesome task to recover the remains of those killed.

It was a time he did not like to discuss in any detail, but he did point out that the murders by the Shankill Butchers were particularly difficult to come to terms with.

"What they did to those people was terrible," he said.

It was another loyalist killer, Michael Stone, who nearly took Mr Dougal's life.

He was present at Milltown Cemetery on that day in 1988 when Stone tried to kill leading Sinn Fein members attending an IRA funeral.

Mr Dougal, along with many mourners, was forced to dive for cover when Stone began shooting and lobbing grenades in the cemetery. Three people were killed and at least 50 hurt.

"Some people tried to get behind gravestones but I just hit the ground and lay there," he recalled.

Edward O'Kane founded the undertaker's firm in 1865 in Little Donegall Street. He lived where the present firm is located. The company was the first in Belfast to introduce motorised hearses in 1914. Mr Dougal's grandfather, who owned a transport and carrier business in the city, became a director of the company in the 1930s. The Dougals bought the firm in the 1940s.

Mr Dougal, the fifth generation son to bear the name Hugh, joined the company in 1964 as a mechanic before becoming involved in arranging funerals. At one stage he was president of the National Association of Funeral Directors. The firm now has three branches in the city.

It is understood that Mr Dougal, who lived in south Belfast, was admitted to hospital around four weeks ago.

He died in the NI Hospice and is survived by his wife Frances, daughter Cathy and son Hugh, and six grandchildren.

His funeral will take place tomorrow, followed by burial at Our Lady's Cemetery, Hannahstown.

Belfast Telegraph

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