Lives Remembered

Boy who escaped Blitz for Co Derry known for generosity and hospitality

Charlie and Mary O'Kane met in England and settled in Magherafelt

CHARLIE O'Kane was 15 years old when his life was turned upside down by the German bombs dropped on Belfast in 1941.

His house in the New Lodge was among those hit in the devastating blitz and his family was forced to move to relatives in Bellaghy, where they were split between two homes.

It was a major upheaval for the young Christian Brothers boy, swapping the bright lights of Belfast for the gentler pace of country life.

But if the experience scarred him, he certainly didn't let if affect how he treated others.

Eventually settling in Magherafelt, Charlie was known throughout the town for his generosity and hospitality.

Someone for whom a stranger was just a friend he hadn't met, his door was always open and his passing has been mourned across south Derry.

Charlie was the youngest of four boys - four other brothers died in infancy - born to Annie and Patrick O'Kane, a talented fiddler who ran a ceili band. Charlie himself played the mandolin.

The family lived first in a tiny house looking over Church Island and its famous 'spire without a church', which was bent when an American aircraft collided with it during World War II.

Charlie had a variety of jobs during his life, including in hospitals in England where he began training as a mental health nurse.

It was there he met the love of his life, Potteries woman Mary Wright. She was 19 and he was 29 when they married, and they lived in England for a decade before moving to Bellaghy and then Magherafelt when the Killowen estate was built.

Charlie worked for many years in the Mid Ulster Hospital as a nursing auxiliary and did a lot of charity work for it and other good causes.

In retirement he kept his mind and body active, painting statues and making peg chairs.

He was also well famed for mending rosary beads, which would be sent off to the missions.

"The children in these missions need something to pray with and they have enough to worry about trying to find money for food," he said.

It was typical of Charlie's kind nature. A man of strong faith, anyone dropping by his home would usually leave with a relic or Padre Pio prayer card.

A much-loved character, who loved to tell stories and make people feel welcome, Charlie O'Kane died aged 91 on March 22.

He is survived by his wife Mary, children Maria, Anne, Patrick and Winifred and family circle.