Lives Remembered

John McGrath: Gentleman primary school principal with passion for knowledge and sport

AS John McGrath was brought on his final journey from his home in Rossglass, Co Down to the ancient graveyard overlooking the sea and majestic Mourne mountains beyond, those lining the route bore witness to his remarkable contribution to his community.

There were former staff and pupils of Legamaddy Primary School, where he had devoted more than half a century of his life as an educator and a member of the board of governors.

There was a guard of honour from the Bright GAA club and friends from the golfing fraternity, representing his passion for all kinds of sport.

There were also members of Downpatrick Lions Club, reflecting his contribution to charities, and others simply wishing to pay their respects to a man universally described as a gentleman.

Although he left a deep imprint on Rossglass, John had grown up in nearby Ardglass, the eldest of two boys and a girl.

His father, George, drove a bread cart but died when John was nine.

His mother Elizabeth, the local district nurse and midwife, was keen that he receive a good education and sent him to Downpatrick to do the 11-plus, where he was a talented pupil at St Patrick's 'Red High'.

John spent a year in the civil service but hated the job and decided he wanted to be a teacher, training at St Joseph's college in Belfast.

He first came to the small, rural Legamaddy school, outside Downpatrick, in the early 1960s.

When the principal moved on a few years later he took charge of the three-teacher school.

And by the time he retired in 2006, it had grown from just a few dozen pupils to 180 in a new building offering a packed programme of extra-curricular sports and activities.

John was an active member of the National Association of Head Teachers and served as its president for a year.

It was also at Legamaddy that he met his wife Mary while she was on teaching practice.

Married in 1973, they were blessed with four children and six grandchildren and were a devoted couple, enjoying travelling and many other shared interests.

John was passionate about history, in particular the 1798 Rebellion and Ancient Rome, and loved telling stories in company.

He was a dedicated quizzer, appearing on Mastermind, Fifteen to One and was a winner with friends on RTÉ's Where In The World.

He also loved running quizzes for others and would sit for hours at his computer devising questions.

Sport was another passion, with an early experience watching West Bromwich Albion winning the FA Cup making him a lifelong Baggies fan and regular visitor to the Hawthorns ground.

He also involved himself in local football, managing teams including Ardglass and Bright, and closely followed GAA and rugby.

He loved golf as well, serving as captain and secretary of the Ardglass club, and had an encyclopaedic knowledge of horse racing.

Right into his seventies John remained very active and energetic, setting off regularly from his home on a brisk five-mile walk to St John's Point lighthouse and back.

He set out for the final time the day before his sudden death from a heart attack.

John McGrath died aged 78 on April 26 after a full and fulfilling life shared with family and friends.

He is survived and sadly missed by his wife Mary, children Oonagh, Ciaran, Ronan and Hugh, his six grandchildren and his brother George, sister Deirdre and family circle.

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