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Belfast business legend Joe Kavanagh was 'a remarkable man'

Marie Louise McCrory reports on the death of the legendary businessman Joseph Kavanagh, who has died at the age of 97.

Famous for telling the people of Belfast that “I Buy Anything”, Joe Kavanagh will be remembered as one of the city’s great characters.

Best known for his 'IBuy any-thing' business spirit, the much-loved grandfather died at the mater Hospital in the north of the city yesterday.

Born in the Smithfield area of Belfast city centre in 1917, Joe started his own business in Smithfield market at the age of 21.

With a grand capital of 18 shillings and sixpence, the young entrepreneur's opening stock consisted of 13 scratched gramo-phone records and a battered bas-soon, which had been a gift from a great uncle who played in the Belfast philharmonic orchestra.

To get his business up and running, he placed an advert in a local news-sheet with the now legendary promise: 'I Buy anything'.

Describing himself as the world's first and only 'buyologist', Joseph Kavanagh's shop quickly became renowned across the city of Belfast and beyond.

Over the years, Joe accumulated many remarkable purchases in his collection including Victoria Crosses, a six-legged lamb, a one-eyed goldfish, a key to the Nazi concentration camp at Belsen and a pair of monogrammed silk stockings from Queen Victoria.

While his store on Gresham Street went from strength to strength - despite sitting in the shadow of CastleCourt Shopping Centre - Joe also found time to help others. As a founding member and chairman of the Young Philanthropists, he was instrumental with others in raising £1 million in the 1950s to save the mater Hospital from closure.

The later construction and equipping of the mcauley Building at the mater was funded entirely through the Young Philanthropists' charitable fund.

In 1952, when decorated royal Navy Seaman James magennis fell on hard times, Joe intervened and bought his Victoria Cross from him.

He then returned it to the sailor on one condition - that he would not sell it again during his lifetime.

Joe also served on other charitable bodies and was a Justice of the Peace. A talented lyricist, he penned ballads over the years, including Jack Wilson's Door.

In 2000, the businessman finally announced his retirement at the age of 83 and time was called on his famous shop - ending an illustrious 62-year career.

Speaking to The Irish News at the time, Joe said he was looking forward to "long days on the golf course" and spending more time with his wife Bernadette, with whom he had five children.

His son Peter Kavanagh last night described his father as a "remarkable man" who was an "extraordinary character".

"He was a wonderful father and just one of Belfast's most recognised businessmen," he said.

"He did a huge amount of charity. He had this amazing reputation."

Joseph Kavanagh is survived by his brother Jack, sister Elizabeth, his five children and six grandchildren. Requiem mass will be celebrated tomorrow at 12.30pm at St Gerard's Church on the Antrim road. Burial will be afterwards in milltown Cemetery.

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