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Touching tributes paid to beloved Belfast funeral director Hugh Dougal at funeral

Undertakers from across Northern Ireland formed a guard of honour outside St Brigid's Church in honour of Hugh Dougal. Picture by Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

TOUCHING tributes were paid to beloved Belfast funeral director Hugh Dougal yesterday as mourners gathered to say their final farewells to a man known for "bringing light into dark places".

Undertakers from across Northern Ireland formed a guard of honour outside St Brigid's Church in south Belfast in honour of Mr Dougal, who passed away on Sunday following a short illness.

Hundreds of mourners heard how the 72 year-old, who was one of Northern Ireland's best known undertakers, would be remembered as the "very best of friends...for countless families in our community".

The third generation of his family to be involved with the Belfast firm O'Kanes, he was regularly featured in newspaper and television coverage of funerals during the Troubles, making him a familiar sight to people across the north.

While he officially retired several years ago, handing the reins of the Donegall Street business to his son Hugh, he still helped out with funerals on occasion.

Dozens of funeral directors were among the many mourners at the Requiem Mass yesterday, as well as former SDLP assembly member Alban Maginness, Belfast comedian John Linehan and many people who had been helped by Mr Dougal following the death of a loved one.

Parish priest Fr Eddie O'Donnell told the packed congregation that Mr Dougal was renowned for his "gentle, quiet way".

He said the father-of-two was a "dedicated and sympathetic funeral director".

"We come together to grieve this quiet and modest man," he said.

Fr O'Donnell also paid tribute to how Mr Dougal showed "great compassion and sensitivity" as he entered so many homes in the community and "often at scenes of great horror".

But the priest said Mr Dougal's illness was "sudden, devastating and short...death came too early".

"A deeply religious man Hugh, in the midst of his illness, found an invincible calm," he said.

A poem penned by Mr Dougal's grandson Luke described him as "the very best friend you could ever hope to find" and those sentiments were echoed by Fr O'Donnell, who said "for countless families in the community, you know he was at times of trouble, the very best of friends".

Mr Dougal's son Hugh received a round of applause as he paid tribute to his father, who he said had "worked hard from day one to maintain the family business".

"He never took his work home, he always came in with a smile," he said.

He said when they were told of his father's illness, medics said it was a "one in a million" chance, but he added that it was his father who was a "one in a million...daddy, God bless".

Mr Dougal is survived by his wife Frances, daughter Cathy and son Hugh, and six grandchildren.

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