Lives Remembered

Odhrán McLaughlin: Selfless teenager's legacy of giving will live on

Odhran McLaughlin with his cat Bella

ODHRÁN McLaughlin loved life and loved to share that joy with others.

He was fun-loving, funny and mischievous. He told jokes, he played tricks, he left silly selfies on his parents' phones.

He was an Irish record holder in weight lifting but he still loved hugs and would end every phone call home with "Love you".

His caring nature was reflected in his love of animals, in particular the family cat Bella who would only be handled by him.

And for a boy aged just 16, it was remarkable how selfless and sensitive he was.

Following his sudden death during a trip abroad earlier this year, a musician approached the family to tell how Odhrán had reached out when he was feeling low.

They had never met or even spoken before. But having taken an interest in the young man's music, Odhrán had picked up from social media that he was feeling down.

He sent him messages of encouragement, reassuring him about his talent and the bright future that lay ahead. His sincerity shone through.

On another recent occasion, while out shopping with his mother, Odhrán was sent out with some money to buy coffee while she tried on clothes.

When he returned without drinks his mother asked what he had spent the money on. He confessed that he hadn't been able to walk past a homeless man on the street outside.

Odhrán with his mother Shirley at the top of New York's Empire State Building

It was always about other people for Odhrán, and in that spirit his family have tried to ensure his legacy of giving lives on.

Rather than flowers, mourners were urged to donate to charitable causes at his funeral including the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust which offered invaluable support at their most difficult hour.

It is their hope that out of tragedy, they can ensure others finding themselves in similar situations in future will benefit in the same way.

Odhrán was born in March 2002, a second son to Albert and Shirley McLaughlin in Crumlin, Co Antrim.

The family moved when he was still a baby to Black's Road, Dunmurry and Odhrán enjoyed his childhood there, his happy-go-lucky nature making him impossible to dislike.

He was a pupil at Our Lady Queen of Peace PS and although he struggled with dyslexia, he surprised everyone by passing his 11-plus to gain a place at RBAI and then scoring highly in his GCSEs.

He wanted to learn a trade and was interested in plumbing. He talked of going into business one day with his mother, as well as his dream of working and living in New York.

 Odhrán dreamed of working and living in New York

For his birthday last year the family travelled over and he loved every minute of it, even meeting with a family friend to quiz him on setting up a business there.

Back home, Odhrán applied for an apprenticeship with Phoenix Gas and from 400 candidates, he was thrilled to be one of the successful three.

He started last September and was thriving in the working world, blossoming into a confident young man at ease with himself and the world around him.

"He just became this fantastic young man, the person we always knew he could be," said his mother Shirley.

His devastated fellow engineers would form a guard of honour with flashing orange lights for his funeral cortege.

Odhrán was fit and strong, having played hurling for St Enda's in Glengormley and rugby at Inst, and from the St Gabriel's gym in Blackstaff he would break Northern Irish and Irish records in Olympic weight lifting.

And it was his love of music which brought him with friends to a festival in Utrecht in Holland in February.

He was having a ball, ringing home twice a day to excitedly tell his family what was going on.

It was therefore all the more shocking to receive the call to say that Odhrán's body had been found in the house in Amsterdam where he had been staying.

He had made the mistake of trying drugs for the first time and the psychosis it induced cost him his life.

The devastating news came as a bolt from the blue for his family, but they were overwhelmed by the support from friends, colleagues and strangers in the following days.

Within just 24 hours of a call to the Kevin Bell trust, set up by Newry couple Colin and Eithne Bell following the sudden death of their son Kevin in New York in 2013, the way was cleared for Odhrán's body to be returned home.

At his funeral a few days later, £3,000 was left in two baskets at the back of St Anne's Church - half for the trust, and half for Action Cancer.

Donations have continued to pour in since then and the fund now sits at £10,000.

The family take some comfort knowing it is what Odhrán would have wanted. Having touched so many lives, both young and old, he now continues to do so.

"Odhráns legacy will live on through the achievements of his family and friends including the charity work we have planned. The Kevin Bell Trust is at the forefront of this and a few of us plan to take part in the Sligo Camino in July to raise money for the charity, who were an amazing help and support to us at such a difficult time," Shirley said. 

Odhrán McLaughlin died on February 25.

He is survived and sadly missed by his parents Albert and Shirley, brother Donal and family circle.

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Lives Remembered