Northern Ireland news

'GAA to the core': Tributes to Co Armagh man Aaron O'Neill following sudden death

Portadown's Aaron O'Neill pictured with daughter Caitlin McCormack. Picture: Ballyhegan Davitts GAC
Paul Ainsworth

THE Co Armagh GAA community has been left "heartbroken" at the sudden death of former club player and father of the county's ladies minor captain.

Aaron O'Neill, a 36-year-old father-of-three, died on Wednesday at his Portadown home, leaving his family and the wider Gaelic games network in Armagh reeling at the loss of a man described as "GAA to the core".

Mr O'Neill, who was a member of the Irish army, having previously served with the Irish Naval Service, was described as his daughter Caitlin McCormack's "biggest fan", who attended her games as she captained the Armagh minor ladies football squad.

Caitlin had also been nominated for Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council's Junior Female of the Year in the local authority's 2019 sports awards.

Tributes have been paid by Caitlin's club, Ballyhegan Davitts GAC, with PRO Orla McKeever telling The Irish News: "Aaron was so incredibly proud and supportive of his daughter, and was always there to attend her club and county games. We are all heartbroken at this news.

"Just last Saturday he travelled 10 hours from Cork to watch her play, which shows the commitment he had to supporting her career. He was her biggest fan, and family was so important to him, as the tributes will show."

The Portadown native was a former player at minor level, and was involved with the town's Tír-na-nOg GFC.

The club's PRO Richard Hendron said Mr O'Neill was a "fantastic character" who was known and loved by many in the county.

"He was a proud Armagh supporter and was GAA to the core. Everyone who knew him held him in great esteem, and when it came to his daughter's GAA career, he was the proudest person in the world."

Others to pay tribute include the Portadown branch of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, a spokesperson for which described him in a social media post as an "ardent supporter". They added he was "always standing in solidarity with the Palestinian people, willing to help in any way. He will be sorely missed by us all".

Portadown Sinn Féin councillor Paul Duffy said Mr O'Neill had helped distribute care parcels to people throughout the community during the Covid lockdowns.

"That's the kind of person Aaron was - thoughtful and community minded," Mr Duffy said.

"Ask anyone who knew him and they will say the same. Aaron was a true gentleman and someone who loved his GAA, his community, and of course, most of all, his family, including his wife Rebecca, older daughter Caitlin, and his two younger daughters Saorla and Cushla."

A funeral mass for Mr O'Neill will be held on Sunday at the Church of St. John The Baptist, Drumcree before a burial service in the adjoining cemetery.

Northern Ireland news