Harry Connolly: Proud Glensman served all in community
WHEN the family of Harry Connolly were organising his funeral Mass they were advised not to hold it in the church he usually attended - St MacNissi's in Magherahoney - but in the larger St Patrick's Church in Loughgiel to cater for the expected crowds who would say farewell to a beloved father, grandfather, friend, neighbour and colleague from the worlds of politics and sport.
This was wise advice indeed but still the larger church was packed to overflowing with GAA stalwarts rubbing shoulders with representatives from the DUP, UUP Sinn Féin as well as his own SDLP.
It was a fitting tribute for a man who was respected by people of all shades of opinion for his many years of hard work and willingness to serve everyone in his community with integrity regardless of their politics or religious affiliation.
Harry was a proud Glensman born in 1934 to Jim and Ellen Connolly (née Casey) in Magherahoney.
Tragedy struck two years later when Ellen passed away shortly after the birth of his younger brother Brendan. However, with his father's remarriage 10 years later, the family expanded with the birth of nine more brothers and five sisters.
It was a family steeped in the GAA, with Harry's uncle and namesake Harry Connolly being one of the founding fathers of Loughgiel Shamrocks GAC in 1915.
From then until the present day members of his extended family have played for the Shamrocks. In fact his funeral was even delayed to allow his grandson, Tiago McGarry, play for the club in the All-Ireland Féile na nGael finals in Galway. The family knew that that would have been his wish.
Harry was devoted to Loughgiel Shamrocks and his wife Philomena recalls how he used to ride his bike with a spade tied to it every day to dig the pitch at Fr Healy park.
As a player he was renowned for his speed and tenacity. As an administrator he was also a major influence in the development of both hurling and camogie.
He was intensely proud of the honorary life membership bestowed upon him in appreciation of the roles of treasurer, secretary and chairman he undertook at various times, and at the time of his death he was club vice-president.
Harry also served as treasurer of the North Antrim divisional board for more than 50 years, a remarkable record.
As a councillor he represented his community for 41 years as a member of Ballymoney Rural Council and then Ballymoney District Council.
In the election for the last ever deputy mayor of Ballymoney before the formation of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, four DUP councillors voted for Harry in preference to a candidate from their own party.
He was delighted to accept the honour, remarking: “I've had a very good relationship with everyone on the council and I've been on it for the last 40-odd years. I've never crossed swords with any of them and always tried to work for the best together.”
In 2012, Harry had brought DUP councillor Ian Stevenson, who was deputy mayor of Ballymoney at that time, to Croke Park to watch his beloved Loughgiel Shamrocks become All-Ireland club champions.
Mr Stevenson's grandfather, Sam O'Neill, had played for Loughgiel alongside Harry's father in the 1920s.
DUP MLA Mervyn Storey, who served with Harry on the council for many years, described him as being “in every sense of the word a gentleman”.
However, Harry was first and foremost a family man. He was a caring older brother to his many siblings and a devoted husband to his Philomena.
He was a proud father to his son Martin and daughter Helena and a doting grandfather to Ella, Harry, Isla ,Tiago and Roma, who will fondly remember his enthusiasm and great sense of humour.
Harry also served his parish well as a Minister of the Word and Eucharist, and was a member of the board of governors of St Patrick's Primary School in Loughgiel.
He demonstrated practically how someone can interact and communicate with others of different views and persuasions within an atmosphere of mutual respect and tolerance in order to achieve the common good.
He will be sadly missed by his family and all who knew him and his passing leaves a vacuum that will be hard to fill.
Harry Connolly died aged 84 on June 7. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam uasal.