Northern Ireland news

Legendary Down GAA player and wife, who died four weeks apart in the US, to make final journey home

Rita and Gerry Butterfield had been married for 33 years
Marie Louise McConville

A former MacRory Cup winning captain will begin his final journey home to Ireland this weekend to be laid to rest alongside his wife after the couple died just four weeks apart in the US.

The ashes of Gerry Butterfield, who passed away on November 9 and his wife, Rita Butterfield, who passed away a month earlier, on October 4, will begin their journey back to Co Down accompanied by 10 family members.

The ashes of the pair are due to arrive in Dublin tomorrow and following Requiem Mass at St Patrick's Church in Mayobridge near Newry at 12pm on Tuesday, the pair will be laid to rest together in the adjoining cemetery.

The couple's family made the decision to bring the remains of the couple back to Ireland because "both of their hearts were always in Ireland".

A native of Mayobridge, Gerry Butterfield's name is well known in Co Down as a former GAA player both with his home club, Mayobridge and briefly with Down.

As a teenager, the sports man was a key member of the Mayobridge senior team which went through the 1953 season undefeated.

As a pupil at Abbey CBS in Newry he was selected as captain of the MacRory Cup side which made history as the first school exclusively for day pupils to lift the famous trophy.

It was said that Gerry was instrumental in the victory, with newspaper reports describing how the "centre-field pair Butterfield and Geoghegan dominated the field and strode like giants through anything Cavan threw against them".

As a young man, Gerry then emigrated to Cleveland in the US where he had an uncle.

After initially taking a job in a factory, he later joined the US Army and found himself stationed in Germany.

He later left the army and became a US citizen before he undertook a college degree in accountancy and took a job at the Ferro Corporation where he worked until he retired.

Having got married and had eight children - five daughters and three sons - the marriage later ended.

The Abbey CBS team that made history by winning the MacRory Cup in 1954. Gerry Butterfield is pictured holding the ball in the front row

At the age of 50, Gerry married his second wife, Rita, who was a native of Ballycroy in Co Mayo.

On October 4, Rita Butterfield passed away peacefully at the age of 81 in Lakewood, Ohio.

Four weeks later, Gerry Butterfield passed away at the age of 83 in North Ridgeville, Ohio following a short illness.

Both Gerry and Rita were cremated following their deaths and this weekend, their ashes will be flown home to Ireland where they will be laid to rest together.

Speaking to the Irish News about his father and stepmother, John Butterfield said "both of their hearts were always in Ireland".

Mr Butterfield, who is a father-of-one, said his father was always proud of his Irish links and had carried on playing GAA in the US as a young man.

"He continued to play Gaelic football here in Cleveland," he said.

"In 1962, they (Cleveland St Pat's) won the national championship. He would have been 28.

"He wasn't one of those guys to show off. Now that he has passed on, we have all got different medals he won and we are searching more and more".

Gerry and Rita Butterfield with family and friends in an Irish pub in Cleveland

John said his father had followed in the footsteps of his own dad, Edward Butterfield, who was known as Teddy Butterfield, who had also been a well-known Gaelic footballer for Down.

The 55-year-old retiree, who has visited Ireland nine times, said 10 family members, including himself, will be accompanying his father and stepmother's ashes back to Ireland.

"We knew that's what they wanted," he said.

"In the last couple of years, they were too ill to travel on a plane. They visited when they could. They would be really happy with this decision.

"We always knew he loved Ireland so much and Rita, to go back and just be home finally".

Gerry and Rita Butterfield pictured with members of their family

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