Pat McElroy: Former council chairman and internee who always wore smile on face
TO the side of the main altar in the Cathedral of St Patrick and St Colman in Newry is a relic of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Her smiling face looks down on the congregation from a portrait above.
It’s a sight that Pat McElroy - husband, father, councillor, Eucharist minister, lifelong pioneer, seaman, bus driver and hospital transport controller - would have gazed on many times.
Like many others, I don’t remember meeting Pat without a smile on his face.
Born and reared in Newry, he had 12 siblings. He was also a devoted father to his son Mark and a beloved husband to his rock of his life – his wife Bridie.
Motivated by the injustices and discrimination practised by the then unionist administration at Stormont, Pat was amongst the first to take to the streets in support of the civil rights movement.
Unsurprisingly he got angry at the response of the RUC and B Specials to demands for rights which were accessible in other parts of the UK.
Pat, like many young people back then, stood at a fork in the road when deciding how best to respond to unionist intransigencies and heavy-handed policing.
He found himself arrested and subjected to horrific torture as he was deprived of sleep, hooded and dropped from a helicopter. He was interned for 15 months at Long Kesh.
The same treatment would have made a lesser man bitter, but not Pat.
A keen sportsman in his youth in both boxing and GAA, he was an active participant in the Carnbane League managing various soccer teams.
He drove buses during the worst years of the Troubles. Pat was particularly fond of children and many who couldn’t afford the trip to school would have found him letting them board on cold and rainy days.
In 1980, his former civil rights colleague, South Armagh MP and SDLP co-founder Paddy O’Hanlon, began mentoring Pat.
Through their friendship he came to the same realisation that Mother Teresa spoke of: “We don’t need guns and bombs to bring peace, we need love and compassion.”
Pat joined the SDLP and within a year was elected to serve on Newry and Mourne District Council.
He spent nearly 25 years as a public representative and the highlight of his tenure was becoming chairman of the council in 1995/96.
His bravery was often underestimated, as he was a constant critic of the armed struggle.
He knew only too well how young people got sucked into the lair of paramilitarism.
Pat also was aware how draconian security measures fuelled the recruitment of these young people and he fought hard to get them sports facilities and jobs.
A constituency office didn’t exist until the election of Seamus Mallon as MP in 1987 so for Pat, engagement with constituents was either at his home or on the streets of Newry.
And that’s where he was most comfortable, having craic with the people he so loved.
He was an active Christian - devout but not pious - and enjoyed his time serving as a Eucharist minister.
Above all Pat loved his family and they him. He died surrounded by them on January 26 at the age of 83 and his wife Bridie and son Mark survive him.