Co Antrim man died while at wife's funeral

St Mary's Church, Cushendall. Picture by Dr Neil Clifton,
St Mary's Church, Cushendall. Picture by Dr Neil Clifton, St Mary's Church, Cushendall. Picture by Dr Neil Clifton,

A priest has spoken of his shock after a Co Antrim man died during his wife’s funeral.

Tributes have been paid to James McAlister, who collapsed at his wife Kathleen’s graveside in Cushendall yesterday.

Mr McAlister, known as ‘Big Jas’ to friends, was shaking hands with people paying their respects when he took ill.

Minutes earlier mourners had attended Requiem Mass for Mrs McAlister at St Mary’s Church.

Originally from Ballycastle, she died on Monday.

It is understood a doctor and several local people tried to resuscitate Mr McAlister without success.

Fr Luke McWilliams, who officiated at Mrs McAlister’s funeral, said the community has been left in “shock”.

He said Mr McAlister had a weak pulse after his collapse and efforts were made to save him.

“Naturally it was just a big shock,” he said.

Mr McAlister, a former Rivers Agency worker and small farmer, lived in the area with his wife, who were both in their seventies.

Aidan McAteer, chairman of the Ruairí Óg hurling club, said he had strong ties with the club.

He said he was a personal friend and he was at the funeral when the tragedy unfolded.

“It’s a terrible shock for us all,” he said.

“The family is steeped in hurling and Jimmy himself was a great supporter of the club, it’s in the blood, the DNA of the family.

“I worked for 16 or 17 years with Jimmy and he was a great character to work with.

“He was great company, a great raconteur, a great story teller.”

Former Sinn Féin MLA Oliver McMullan, who was also at the funeral, spoke with Mr McAlister minutes before he collapsed.

He said he knew the dead man for many years and played hurling with his brother in the past.

“He was very, very well known within the Glens and further afield,” he said.

“They were always part of the community and the first to be there if there was anything to be done in the hurling club.

“That’s the type of community the Glens is, close knit and it’s a devastating blow for the community.”

Mr McMullan offered his “thoughts and prayers” to Mr McAllister’s family and praised those who tried to save his life including a local ‘first responder’ defibrillator team.