Alex McKillop: Shopkeeper, keeper of stories, and kind and gentle man
ALEX McKillop would have scoffed if you called him an historian yet it was his stories about his beloved village of Carnlough and the Glens of Antrim that had people conversing with him long after they had purchased an ice cream, confectionery or some other item in his shop.
He relished any opportunity to talk about the place he loved and McKillop's was somewhere to gather and exchange yarns.
It wasn't unusual to see a customer waiting patiently while Alex finished chatting to someone about who lived in what house, or who worked where, and what date some particular event happened in or around the village.
A few years ago a visitor from America called in and asked about his Carnlough ancestors. After a few minutes the man learned that they lived in the McKillop family home, right above the shop he was standing in.
Alex was able to show him a photograph of his great-great grandfather and, as the house was then vacant, even invited him to stay for a few nights in his ancestral home.
Born in January 1949 on Marine Road, Carnlough to Lilly and John McKillop, Alex began working in his mother's shop in High Street as soon as he left school while his father, a merchant sailor, was away at sea.
In 1972 he married Siobhan Hagan and together they moved to the shop's current location at Harbour Road. After the passing of his parents, Alex took over the business.
It was a colourful emporium of seaside delights, selling ice cream, candy floss and rock, as well as buckets and spades, swimming rings and children's toys, from water pistols to cowboy outfits and colouring books.
In the 1970s and 1980s there was also a small amusement arcade at the back and locals still talk fondly of the times they spent there, supervised by the ever watchful Alex.
His daughters Ciara and Marion and son Tony served behind the counter as children, their father teaching them how to give the correct change.
In time this wonderful tradition continued when his grandchildren arrived and got the chance to "play shop" with long-standing customers.
Alex was devoted to his grandchildren, taking them along on his various jaunts when not in the shop.
He enjoyed music and assisted with a local senior citizens club where he and other local musicians and singers would get together for a song, a story and a dance.
He would recall the various dances held in the area in the 1960s and '70s, such as Castlegreen near Cushendun, and had a wealth of knowledge of the various bands that played.
Alex also loved art and painted scenes around the Glens of Antrim.
As president of the art society he was instrumental in arranging classes in the village and he championed local artists and encouraged them to show their work in an exhibition each July.
In later years Alex went to Glendun Nursing Home and Glenmona Day Centre to assist with art classes for residents, a role he thoroughly enjoyed.
He also enjoyed travelling, visiting places as far afield as Cuba and Barbados.
Alex always spoke with the people he met to find out about the places and on his return he would regale everyone with the stories gleaned on his travels, such as when he visited Gibraltar where his father first arrived as a young sailor during World War II.
In recent years Alex began to experience ill health yet despite major surgery and pneumonia he recovered and prepared to reopen his shop and resume the stories once more.
He reopened briefly between the lockdowns last year and was preparing to return once again at the start of May so that he could celebrate the birthdays of two of his granddaughters.
However, a great sadness descended on the village when news circulated on the morning of April 30 that Alex had passed away suddenly and unexpectedly.
The family decided that the shop was Alex and Alex was the shop and it wouldn't be the same to try to continue without him.
And so reluctantly McKillops closed its doors - but so many stories linger and so many memories will remain, as plentiful and colourful as the jars of sweets that for so long lined the shelves.