Coronavirus

Family of north Belfast man who died in New York from coronavirus speak of their 'immense' loss

North Belfast-born man Tarlach Mac Niallais (Terry Nellis) who died in New York as a result of the coronavirus
Marie Louise McConville

THE family of a north Belfast-born man who died in the United States from coronavirus have spoken of their "immense" loss.

Tarlach Mac Niallais (Terry Nellis), who was originally from the Newington area but lived in New York, died on Wednesday

The 57-year-old, who was well-known both at home and in New York as a dedicated community activist, worked as a social work manager for a project in the Queens area for people with learning difficulties.

He tested positive for Covid-19 around two weeks ago and stayed at home to self-isolate however when his condition worsened, he travelled to a hospital in Upstate New York.

Doctors initially treated the high profile LGBT activist with a new drug but when he showed no signs of improvement he was put on a ventilator and on dialysis when his kidneys began to fail.

Brendan Nellis said his brother was still able to speak to family back home in Belfast on his phone and was conscious until he was put into an induced coma.

"The nurses contacted us and said he had hours to live. She said `If you want to write messages and send them, I will read them into his ear' because the last thing to leave is his hearing".

Mr Nellis said his family did this before his brother died on Wednesday.

He said his brother would be remembered as "a leader" who campaigned for equality issues and walked in the annual St Patrick's Day parade as a representative of the LGBT community two years ago.

"He was very, very giving and very loyal and everybody loved him," he said.

"He was the heart and soul of any party and he led by example. He was an activist for all equality issues. He started at home and he continued it when he went to New York.

"We are absolutely proud of him. He was a leader. He was a role model. He was an immense man and we all miss him."

Brendan, who described his brother as "a beautiful man", said the family were planning a "Glastonbury party" in his memory when the coronavirus crisis has passed, adding that they will also fulfil his wishes for his ashes to be scattered at sites in Belfast, Newcastle, Co Down and in Mexico, where his husband, Juan is from.

"It is just the strangest thing," he said.

"I'm old enough to have gone through the Troubles and have buried many people. None of those were as bad as this.

"It is such an immense loss".

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