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Ten Northern Ireland people who died in 2017 - from Martin McGuinness to chef Darren Simpson

Ryan McBride
Ryan McBride
Martin McGuinness
Patrick Johnston

Northern Ireland lost several well-known figures in the past year. Donna Deeney remembers some of those who made their mark.

Ryan McBride: Derry City captain, died March 19, aged 27

Ryan McBride

The sudden death of Derry City captain Ryan McBride at the age of just 27 left the sporting world stunned.

He passed away in his sleep at his home, which sits in the shadow of the Brandywell, the home ground of his beloved Candystripes.

He led his team to a 4-0 victory against Drogheda United despite feeling unwell the day before his untimely passing.

Tributes poured in from teams across Ireland and the UK, including English Premier League players.

They included fellow Londonderry footballer James McClean, who summed up Mr McBride's attitude to his sport, recalling how he "would throw his body on the line" when he was on the field.

In the months since his death, a mural to Mr McBride has been unveiled in the heartland of the community where he grew up.

Situated at Long Tower Youth Club, the mural was unveiled during A Day for Ryan McBride, part of the Gasyard Feile in August, and attended by his former teammates and Derry City manager Kenny Shiels.

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It is understood Danny Bradley made the approach to Stormont's then-deputy first minister in 2015

Martin McGuinness: Former Deputy First Minister, died March 21, aged 66

Weeks after his resignation as Deputy First Minister due to ill health, Martin McGuinness passed away in Altnagelvin Hospital from a rare heart condition.

Viewed as a peacemaker by some and an IRA killer by others, he was a divisive figure throughout his life.

His early years, spent as second in command of the IRA in Londonderry during some of the darkest days of the Troubles, were in stark contrast with his time as a leading Sinn Fein politician and, later, as Deputy First Minister - a role which saw him shake hands with the Queen and raise a glass to her at a function in Windsor Castle.

Away from the limelight, Mr McGuinness was a man of simple tastes. He enjoyed quiet walks in Donegal and fly-fishing.

His devotion to his native Bogside, where he was born, remained steadfast - he never moved from the area despite being under threat from dissident republicans he angered by calling traitors.

In his later years, he won the respect and at times friendship of his former adversaries, none less so than the late Ian Paisley.

The pair got on so famously that they were dubbed 'the chuckle brothers'.

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Brendan Duddy

Brendan Duddy: Londonderry peacemaker, died May 12, aged 80

Brendan Duddy, who passed away after a long illness in his native Londonderry, was perhaps best known as a successful businessman who built up a portfolio that included hotels, bars, retail outlets and property.

But he will be remembered too as a quiet hero during Northern Ireland's Troubles, when he acted as a go-between in talks between the Government and the IRA, which eventually led to the 1994 ceasefire.

His unique role won him respect from unlikely sources, which was evident at his funeral in St Eugene's Cathedral, where ex-MI6 spies sat in the pews along with senior republicans and representatives of the London and Dublin governments.

Hailed as the "secret peacemaker", few people were aware of the pivotal role he held for two decades, during which he hosted key figures from MI5 and MI6 as well as senior republicans in his own home.

He was the key link between then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the IRA during the 1981 republican hunger strikes.

Later, he was recognised for his "key" role and the risks he took by Tony Blair's ex-chief of staff Jonathan Powell who wrote about Mr Duddy in his book, Great Hatred, Little Room: Making Peace in Northern Ireland.

There he penned: "Duddy was a pacifist and a firm believer in dialogue. 'The Contact', Duddy worked selflessly and at great risk to himself over many years to bring about a peaceful settlement in Northern Ireland."

Many people felt Mr Duddy should have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.

Patrick Johnston

Patrick Johnston: Queen's University vice-chancellor, died June 4, aged 58

The world of academia and medical research was stunned by the sudden death of Professor Patrick Johnston in June.

The Londonderry-born professor passed away suddenly at his holiday home in Co Donegal.

He will forever be remembered for his contribution to improving cancer services in Northern Ireland and for his role as vice-chancellor of Queen's University - a post he held from 2014 until his death.

He was at the heart of the establishment of the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology, which has revolutionised cancer treatment in Northern Ireland and beyond.

It was designated a Cancer Research UK Centre in 2009 and now has 250 research staff.

In 2012 he received a Diamond Jubilee Queen's Anniversary Prize for the university-led reorganisation of cancer care in the province.

Educated at St Columb's College in Derry and from a family steeped in teaching, Professor Johnston opted instead to study medicine and graduated from University College Dublin in 1982.

In 2008 St Columb's College awarded him the Past Pupils' Union Alumnus Illustrissimus prize, which is given to past pupils for an achievement of major significance or for making a considerable contribution in their field.

Darren Simpson

Darren Simpson: Celebrity chef, died June 22, aged 43

Darren Simpson, who died in June, grew up in Armoy and Hillsborough. He first made his mark in the world of celebrity cuisine at the age of 21, when he became Britain's youngest Young Chef of the Year.

It was a considerable achievement, given that he secured the accolade just two years after starting his first job as a chef in Belfast.

Among the more prestigious restaurants where Mr Simpson trained were Michelin-starred Paul Rankin's Roscoff in Belfast, Le Gavroche and the River Cafe in London.

The father-of-two credited a family friend who was a chef in Bermuda as his inspiration to enter the culinary world before honing his skills in restaurants in Northern Ireland, London and Australia.

He moved Down Under in 1999, taking up a position as head chef of Aqua Luna Bar and Restaurant in Sydney.

It was also in Australia where he rose to celebrity status, appearing regularly on Australian television's My Restaurant Rules, Live This and Ready Steady Cook.

Restaurant critic and friend Terry Durack said: "He brought that cocky Irish charm to everything he did, but he was actually a big old softie inside."

Mr Simpson passed away after suffering a heart attack at his home in Byron Bay, Australia.

David Anderson with the Queen at Hillsborough Castle

David Anderson: Hillsborough Castle manager, died August 9, aged 58

David Anderson was the household manager of the Queen's residence in Northern Ireland, Hillsborough Castle - a post he maintained for more than 25 years until 2009.

The father-of-three worked under four Prime Ministers and 12 Secretaries of State, and looked after the Queen and other members of the Royal family when they stayed at the castle.

He was awarded an MBE and was also made a member of the Victorian Order to mark his personal service to the Queen.

He is said to have presided over more formal occasions than anyone else in Northern Ireland in his position as household manager.

During his time at Hillsborough Castle, Mr Anderson witnessed many key political moments in Northern Ireland's history including the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement between then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and then Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald.

Other notable occasions he presided over included the Tony Blair and George Bush summit in 2003, the visit of the Dalai Lama in 2004 and a major investment conference in May 2007.

While the late Princess Diana never stayed overnight at the castle, she was among Mr Anderson's favourite visitors.

Shaun Woodward, a former Labour Secretary of State, described Mr Anderson as "the embodiment of decency".

Sean O'Callaghan: Informant, died August 23, aged 62

Sean O'Callaghan was an assassin and bomb-maker for the IRA who went on to become one of the organisation's highest-ranking informants, serving both the Garda and RUC. 

O'Callaghan drowned in a pool in Kingston, Jamaica, on August 23, where he was visiting his daughter.

In the 1970s he was part of an IRA gang behind a mortar bomb attack on a military base in Co Tyrone in which a young woman soldier died.

Credited with foiling an IRA plan to murder Prince Charles and his then wife Diana at a Duran Duran concert in 1983, O'Callaghan was nonetheless an IRA killer. His decision to turn his back on violence made him a marked man - something he accepted and flaunted by writing his memoir, aptly entitled The Informer.

O'Callaghan also went on to become a political adviser to Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble and he counted historian Ruth Dudley Edwards among his friends.

He settled in London but was always mindful that he was one of the IRA's most hated figures.

He lived his life in the knowledge that the organisation wanted him dead, something he accepted.

O'Callaghan once said: "If they (the IRA) succeed, I would say, 'Fair dues.'"

Glenn Barr: Community worker, died October 24, aged 75

Glenn Barr's journey from leading loyalist in the 1970s to cross-community worker and co-founder of the Irish Peace Park in Messines was remarkable.

The one-time UDA leader played a leading role in the Ulster Workers' Council strike that paralysed Northern Ireland and brought down the first attempt at political power-sharing.

He flirted with the idea of entering the political arena, but in the end he declined party politics and instead turned his attention to bettering the lot of the working-class youths in his native Londonderry. He established the Maydown Ebrington Group in 1981, which sought to train unemployed young adults, regardless of religious or political background.

At its height the centre had 600 people in government-funded courses, managed and supported by 70 staff.

In later life his cross-community work included a visit to Flanders, along with former Irish politician Paddy Harte, in an effort to remember and memorialise the 50,000 people from both Northern Ireland and the Republic who died during the First World War.

Sir William Hastings: Northern Ireland hotelier, died December 15, aged 89

As 2017 drew to a close there was widespread sadness at the death of Sir William Hastings - the man behind so many of Northern Ireland's finest hotels.

Sir William built up his tourism portfolio from humble beginnings.

He left the Royal Belfast Academical Institution at the age of 16 to serve an apprenticeship in the timber trade, joining his brother Roy in the family's licensed trade business two years later.

Throughout the worst violence of the Troubles Mr Hastings remained resolutely committed to the hotel industry and perhaps his most famous purchase was the Europa Hotel, which was notoriously the most bombed hotel in Europe.

The Europa, the jewel in the crown of the Hastings Hotel Group, will serve as a legacy to Sir William's determination to create jobs and prosperity, not just in Belfast but across Northern Ireland.

His dedication to the industry was recognised in 2009 when he was bestowed with a knighthood, which followed previous honours by the Queen.

Ulster University also awarded him an honorary Doctor of Letters in 1998.

But Billy - as he was known to those closest to him - was also a family man who dedicated his life to his wife Joy, to whom he was married for 57 years, and to his family Julie, Howard, Allyson and Aileen.

In a statement, his family said: "We cannot describe the huge void that he has left in our lives, but we take comfort in the fact that he was an inspiration to so many people and has left a lasting legacy, which we will remain dedicated in honouring."

Dr Maurice Hayes: Former senior civil servant, died December 23, aged 90

A civil servant who rose to the top of his profession during his career, Dr Maurice Hayes was also remembered as a major figure in the GAA.

He passed away in hospital on Saturday morning following a period of ill health.

The Queen's University graduate, from Killough, Co Down, was a high-flyer in the Northern Ireland Civil Service, becoming the permanent secretary of the Department of Health as well as the first Catholic to hold the post of NI Ombudsman.

He was at the centre of the Sunningdale Agreement and was later a key contributor to the landmark Patten report which transformed the RUC into the PSNI.

Over the Christmas weekend, tributes flooded in from political and sporting figures on both sides of the Irish border.

The Irish justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said: "Saddened at the passing of Maurice Hayes. A man of many talents. NI Ombudsman, police reformer, Senator, Chair of Forum on Europe. Down GAA strategist. Always balanced, fair and even-handed on Northern Ireland matters. Rest in peace."

Dr Hayes' sporting life saw him play hurling for Down and in his later role as county secretary he was lauded for helping the team win the All Ireland championship in 1960, the first ever county from Northern Ireland to achieve the honour.

Dr Hayes reflected on his career earlier this year in a TV interview with journalist Eamonn Mallie.

On becoming NI Ombudsman, he said: "I believed I had to prove that a Catholic could do the job as well as anyone else."

A Requiem Mass will take place today at 12am in St Patrick's Church in Downpatrick followed by burial at Down Cathedral.

Belfast Telegraph


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