Northern Ireland

Hugh Russell funeral hears he was 'role model and inspiration' to many

Family, friends and work colleagues at the funeral of Hugh Russell. Picture by Mark Marlow
Family, friends and work colleagues at the funeral of Hugh Russell. Picture by Mark Marlow Family, friends and work colleagues at the funeral of Hugh Russell. Picture by Mark Marlow

Olympic boxer and acclaimed photographer Hugh Russell was remembered at his funeral as a role model and inspiration to many, but above all, a family man "with a heart of gold".

Family, friends and colleagues gathered at St Patrick's Church in Belfast today, just yards from the former offices of The Irish News where Hugh dedicated 40 years of his life as an award-winning photographer.

Mourners at the service heard how, as one of the north's best-known and loved newspaper photographers, he had "captured a window" in the turbulent recent history of Northern Ireland and that his "achievements are easy to list".

Fellow photographers carried the coffin of Hugh Russell following his funeral in Belfast. Picture by Mark Marlow
Fellow photographers carried the coffin of Hugh Russell following his funeral in Belfast. Picture by Mark Marlow Fellow photographers carried the coffin of Hugh Russell following his funeral in Belfast. Picture by Mark Marlow

The father-of-four (63), who shot to fame as a boxer in the early 1980s, died on Friday following a short illness.

A well-known figure in the boxing ring, Hugh won bronze medals at the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton and the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, both in the flyweight division.

Affectionately known as 'Little Red', as a professional, Hugh claimed British and Irish bantamweight and flyweight titles.

He went on to work for The Irish News, during which time he recorded "momentous historical events".

Read more:

  • Hugh Russell: Legendary boxer, award-winning photographer and 'absolute gentleman'
  • Hugh Russell: Small in stature but the heart of a lion
  • Battles of Belfast: Hugh Russell and Davy Larmour relive the fights that electrified city's boxing scene

Figures from boxing, media and politics were among the mourners to say their final farewells, including retired world champion boxer Carl Frampton, Olympic medallist Paddy Barnes and IBO super-featherweight title holder Anthony Cacace.

Boxer Carl Frampton attended the funeral with his wife Christine. Picture by Mark Marlow
Boxer Carl Frampton attended the funeral with his wife Christine. Picture by Mark Marlow Boxer Carl Frampton attended the funeral with his wife Christine. Picture by Mark Marlow

Boxers Stephen Ward, Paddy Gallagher and James Tennyson, boxing coach Tommy McCarthy as well as legendary Irish boxer, coach and brother of Olympian PJ Davitt, Tony Davitt and Olympic gold medallist Mary Peters also attended.

Sinn Féin MP John Finucane, his party colleagues Caral Ni Chulin, Alex Maskey and Ryan Murphy, SDLP MP Claire Hanna, councillor Carl Whyte and SDLP veteran Alban Maginness were also among the mourners, as well as Alliance MLA Kate Nicholl and the UUP's Mike Nesbitt.

Read more:Hugh Russell -  A storyteller of rare power and a journalist of the first rank

Sinn Féin MP John Finucane. Picture by Mark Marlow
Sinn Féin MP John Finucane. Picture by Mark Marlow Sinn Féin MP John Finucane. Picture by Mark Marlow

Former Irish News editors Tom Collins and Martin O'Brien joined numerous existing and former staff from the newspaper as well as journalists Barney Rowan, Lynda Bryans and Mervyn Jess, Richard Moore from Children in Crossfire and entertainment personality John Lenihan, who plays the character May McFettridge.

Members of the Holy Family Boxing Club, where Hugh got his start as a young boy, accompanied his coffin as it was carried to the church.

The funeral of Hugh Russell as it made its way to St Patrick's Church flanked by members of the Holy Family Boxing club. Picture by Mark Marlow
The funeral of Hugh Russell as it made its way to St Patrick's Church flanked by members of the Holy Family Boxing club. Picture by Mark Marlow The funeral of Hugh Russell as it made its way to St Patrick's Church flanked by members of the Holy Family Boxing club. Picture by Mark Marlow

As the service began, noted mementos reflecting Hugh's life were brought to the front of the church, including a pair of boxing gloves, a camera, a golf score card and a beloved family photograph.

Hugh Russell's wife Kathy with photographer and long-time friend of her husband, Paul Faith. Picture by Mark Marlow
Hugh Russell's wife Kathy with photographer and long-time friend of her husband, Paul Faith. Picture by Mark Marlow Hugh Russell's wife Kathy with photographer and long-time friend of her husband, Paul Faith. Picture by Mark Marlow

Fr Michael Spence told the congregation of how Hugh was a role model and inspiration for many.

"As this city was being torn apart in the Troubles, Hugh, like many others, found a sanctuary in sport, ," he said.

"Many sporting organisations and clubs provided that sort of space for young people in those darker times.

"Hugh believed that boxing gave kids discipline and a sense of belonging as you quickly became a member of an even larger family.

"His achievements are easy to list, what is much more difficult to quantify is the influence that Hugh himself had on younger people, and on boxers in particular.

"He undoubtedly inspired many, including a new generation of very successful boxers."

Friends and work colleagues lined the street outside the former offices of The Irish News. Picture by Mark Marlowrk Marlow
Friends and work colleagues lined the street outside the former offices of The Irish News. Picture by Mark Marlowrk Marlow Friends and work colleagues lined the street outside the former offices of The Irish News. Picture by Mark Marlowrk Marlow

Turning to his career as a photographer, Fr Spence said Hugh had left a record that will provide a window for future generations.

"He captured moments of ordinary every day life in this city and beyond, he captured moments of horror and heartbreak, he captured moments of ecstatic joy, he recorded momentous historical events," he said.

"I was thinking of one shot in particularly of Ian Paisley senior going through the door of Stormont and Martin McGuinness patting (him) on the back.

"Hugh captured the moment.

"For those working in the media in general, when covering tragic events, there's probably a very fine line in capturing an event on camera and reporting it, and intruding on people's privacy, and heartache and grief.

Fellow Olympian Mary Peters. Picture by Mark Marlow
Fellow Olympian Mary Peters. Picture by Mark Marlow Fellow Olympian Mary Peters. Picture by Mark Marlow

"Hugh got that fine line correct. He displayed a great sensitivity in that regard, and that speaks volumes about the character of the man.

"As his family described him, he was a kind man with a heart of gold."

Fr Spence added: "Hugh Russell has left a record that will provide a window for current and future generations into the social, cultural, political life of this part of the world for the closing decades of the 20th century, and the opening ones of the 21st.

"He's done a great service for current and future generations, and his photographs, they're like a time capsule of the last 40 years.

"He was a successful boxer, and a role model and an inspiration for many. He was a successful and acclaimed photographer.

"He was a great friend to many but first and foremost, he was a family man."

Describing “a sense of homecoming” for Hugh being brought back to the church where he was baptised and married, Fr Spence said "we give thanks for Hugh and the ripple effects of his life".

The service concluded with a poem, which remembered Hugh as a “cherished collector of memories so rare, whose love for photography spread through the air”.

"Let us remember with gratitude and pride, the photographer who captured life’s wild ride.”

Later, following the funeral, press photographers, several wearing their cameras around their necks, lined the entrance of the church as a mark of respect to their colleague.

Family, friends and work colleagues attend the funeral of Hugh Russell at St Patrick's church on Donegall Street in Belfast. Picture by Mark Marlow
Family, friends and work colleagues attend the funeral of Hugh Russell at St Patrick's church on Donegall Street in Belfast. Picture by Mark Marlow Family, friends and work colleagues attend the funeral of Hugh Russell at St Patrick's church on Donegall Street in Belfast. Picture by Mark Marlow

Hugh's coffin was then carried past the nearby former Irish News offices on Donegall Street as staff lined the street and applauded.

He is survived by his wife Kathy, children Hugh, Hayley, James and Calum and wider family circle.

SDLP MP Claire Hanna. Picture by Mark Marlow
SDLP MP Claire Hanna. Picture by Mark Marlow SDLP MP Claire Hanna. Picture by Mark Marlow
Mike Nesbitt of the UUP. Picture by Mark Marlow
Mike Nesbitt of the UUP. Picture by Mark Marlow Mike Nesbitt of the UUP. Picture by Mark Marlow
Journalist Barney Rowan. Picture by Mark Marlow
Journalist Barney Rowan. Picture by Mark Marlow Journalist Barney Rowan. Picture by Mark Marlow
Irish News editor Noel Doran. Picture by Mark Marlow
Irish News editor Noel Doran. Picture by Mark Marlow Irish News editor Noel Doran. Picture by Mark Marlow
Legendary Irish boxer, coach and brother of Olympian PJ Davitt, Tony Davitt. Picture by Mark Marlow
Legendary Irish boxer, coach and brother of Olympian PJ Davitt, Tony Davitt. Picture by Mark Marlow Legendary Irish boxer, coach and brother of Olympian PJ Davitt, Tony Davitt. Picture by Mark Marlow
Ex-boxer Paddy Gallagher.  Picture by Mark Marlow
Ex-boxer Paddy Gallagher. Picture by Mark Marlow Ex-boxer Paddy Gallagher. Picture by Mark Marlow
Boxer James Tennyson. Picture by Mark Marlow
Boxer James Tennyson. Picture by Mark Marlow Boxer James Tennyson. Picture by Mark Marlow