Declan Martin: True gentleman whose generosity touched countless lives
IN the days and weeks following the death of Declan Martin, the same tribute echoed again and again through messages to his family – a 'true gentleman', whose generosity touched countless lives.
For many his impact was first experienced as an educator.
For 35 years Declan helped shape young minds at St Louis Grammar School, Ballymena.
As a teacher, he combined a keen intelligence with a dry Belfast wit as he shared his love of history and Irish.
As deputy principal he was also a kind, compassionate administrator whose door was always open for those in need of advice or a listening ear.
For education was not just a career for Declan, it was a vocation grounded in his strong Christian faith.
And those values of truth, justice and the common good were lived out throughout every aspect of his life.
Born in 1945, Declan grew up on Clifton Drive in north Belfast, the only son of Charles and Kathleen Martin and big brother to Colette.
His parents ran Sheridan's Bar on the New Lodge Road, but his father's death sadly meant he became the man of the house at the tender age of seven.
Declan boarded at St McNissi’s College, Garron Tower and for a time considered priesthood.
He instead completed a degree in history and Irish at St Patrick's College, Maynooth and secured a teaching position at St Louis, where he would remain his entire career.
It was at St Louis that he met Jeanne MacKenzie, a music teacher with the education board whom he followed down a corridor one day and never looked back.
She agreed to accompany him to the school formal. Six months later, Declan wondered aloud whether it should be a Christmas or Easter wedding; Jeanne thought Christmas, and they were married on January 3 1974.
They would have four children, Eoin, Caitríona, Deirdre and Aisling, with five grandchildren now scattered across Ireland, England and Australia.
Declan and Jeanne burned with pride in their children's achievements and in a beautiful eulogy at her father's funeral, Aisling described how Jeanne "was his rock, and he was hers".
"Love is a decision, and mum and dad decided to trust each another resolutely; they made a pretty perfect team."
The couple made their home in Ballymena and Declan threw himself into community life in his adopted home.
He was a committed member of St Vincent de Paul for four decades, serving as president of the Ballymena branch and as vice-president at the time of his death.
Regional president Mary Waide said he showed great dedication and tenacity in reaching out to those in need.
"He was tireless and an inspiration to his fellow members in his humanity and sense of justice. Declan was held both in the highest esteem and affection by his Vincentian family. His dry wit, mostly at his own expense, was a tonic at meetings."
Kieran Killough, who also worked alongside him at St Vincent de Paul, said he was "the embodiment of a Vincentian".
"On his visitations he showed the utmost respect and compassion to those who needed help. Declan cared about people, he wanted to make their lives better and he certainly did."
Declan was also an active member of the Order of Malta, having qualified as an advanced first aider after an accident in school revealed that none of the staff were trained in first aid. He would pass on his skills in turn to St Louis pupils.
He was also a board member of Ballymena SureStart.
And for 10 years he and Jeanne helped young people explore their faith through the Youth Encounter programme.
In fact, Declan was so busy he was described as a revolving door - and for this reason he found Covid restrictions particularly difficult.
Lockdown also stopped his daily attendance at All Saints Church, although he used it as an opportunity to embark on a virtual tour of Ireland's parishes.
His relentless schedule had first been interrupted 20 years earlier when he was diagnosed with cancer, requiring the removal of his larynx.
But if anything, the experience made him more determined to use his time productively.
In retirement Declan managed to write two books on Irish political postcards - his family joked that for a man with no voice, he spoke volumes.
Indeed, he had a love of all things Irish - the language, history and culture - as well as a 'wee dram' of whiskey when relaxing at home.
In a letter to Jeanne, friend and former colleague Malachy Duffin said he was "the embodiment of everything that is healthy and holy - his love of family, his profession, his God, the poor, the downtrodden, his language and culture".
"Declan was a man apart. A man with a wonderful vision of life, he was always at peace with everyone around him because he was always at peace within himself.
"He lived and loved life with a beautiful attitude of detachment, grace and humour - always giving the sense that he saw a bigger picture no matter what came his way."
In her eulogy, Aisling also described how her father's generosity extended to his knowledge, time, money and compassion.
"Yet with his generosity he was humble. He never looked for any recognition. He was humility personified," she said.
"Daddy brought so much love and joy in life. In death, he will live eternally in the hearts of everyone who knew him. There are no words to describe how much he will be missed."
Declan Martin died on August 23 surrounded by his loving family.