Mourners say farewell to Larne lensman and lifeboat volunteer

Alistair Mawhinney.
Alistair Mawhinney.

The funeral took place at Gardenmore Presbyterian Church in Larne on Saturday of well-known photographer Alistair Mawhinney.

Mr Mawhinney - who was 63 - passed away suddenly at Antrim Hospital on Wednesday with his daughter Michelle and son Derek at his bedside.

The Victoria Road church was packed with mourners paying their respects to a man who was well-known to many throughout the community.

The service was conducted by Gardenmore minister Rev Gary Glasgow who spoke of the love of Alistair’s family and his close relationship with his grand-daughter Alex.

He also spoke of his devotion to his late wife Sandra whom he had started dating when they were teenagers.

Alistair was born in Ballymena and came to live in Slemish Drive in Larne at the age of two when his father Jim, a fitter by trade, got the opportunity of work in the town.

He attended Moyle Primary School and Greenland Secondary School, before finishing his education at Larne Technical College.

Alistair started his working life as a fitter at GEC in Larne, where he served a four-year apprenticeship.

He had a yearning to join the Marines, but “upon listening to the advice of his mother” he changed his mind and joined the RUC full-time Reserve.

After three years he moved into security work and joined the Prison Service in 1979, where he remained for 18 years, having served in Crumlin Road, Magilligan, the Maze and Maghaberry prisons.

He left the Prison Service in 1997 and began to work as a photographer for the Larne Gazette.

“He was really a keen amateur photographer, but after submitting a few of his pictures to the local paper, they were keen to offer him a job, which he gladly took up, and he worked for them for the next 10 years.

“He enjoyed the freedom and the lack of intensity that his previous job had imposed, and though the hours were somewhat unsocial in that a photographer had to be there when events were happening, nevertheless, he relished his work.”

In the past few years Alistair worked as a freelance photographer, covering events for the Larne, Carrick and Newtownabbey Times.

“Indeed, the last time I saw Alistair working was a cold November Remembrance Sunday morning, just a couple of months ago, when he was in his usual place, capturing images of people laying wreaths at the cenotaph at Inver.,” said Rev Glasgow.

“Away from work, family life was where Alistair drew so much of his happiness and contentment.

“When the children were young, Alistair and Sandra took them on holidays to France year after year, making the most of family down time, and doing so, well away from the Troubles which Alistair in his job was so conscious of every day.

“Coming to church and being part of church life in Gardenmore was also important to Alistair and the whole family.

“Alistair was on the church committee for a number of years, Sandra sang for years in the church choir. And Derek and Michelle grew up coming along to Sunday School and BB and GB as well.

“It was a huge sadness to Alistair, and to everyone in the family, when sadly, Sandra passed away in 2004 after several years of ill health.

“Alistair was only 49 years of age and having spent the best part of 35 years being together and in what was a close and loving marriage, it was difficult for Alistair making the transition to being on his own.

“And what helped him enormously, or rather, who helped him enormously, was Alex when she was born in 2006. Alex might not have known her grandmother, but she and her grandpa became best of friends.

“Alistair was a very well-known man in the local Larne community. He was a member of Larne Camera Club.

“He was a volunteer for the lifeboats and was their press officer for many years, promoting the work that they do and the conditions in which they do them.

“He was also in Larne Bowling Club for the best part of 30 years, even serving as their secretary for a number of years.

“And unknown to most people, he also volunteered for the Samaritans in their Ballymena call centre. Yes, the gruff-ish looking Alistair, had a big and soft heart for those in crisis in their lives, and he gave of his time to be on the other end of a phone should anyone be looking for help.”

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council Mayor Lindsay Millar said she was saddened to hear of Alistair’s death.

“As a long-established and highly respected photographer, Alistair was known to many in the town and surrounding area and he will be deeply missed.

Valerie Martin, Head of Content at jpimedia NI - publishers of the Larne, Carrick and Newtownabbey Times - said: “We have all been shocked and saddened by Alistair’s death.

“As well as being a friend and colleague, he was a real character and we will all miss him very much. Our thoughts are with his family.”

Niamh Stephenson, RNLI Regional Media Manager Ireland and Isle of Man, said: “Alistair has left a wonderful and lasting legacy to Larne RNLI. A larger than life character with a great wit and a down to earth manner, he had the ability to make everyone feel at ease.

“His passion was photography and he used his great skill in this area during his time as the station’s Lifeboat Press Officer, bringing the work of the Larne lifeboat crew and fundraisers to a wide audience. His photographs were used for many important station events and to publicise rescues and fundraisers.

“He was also a valued member of the operations team, serving as a Deputy Launching Authority, a role of great importance in the RNLI and which carried significant responsibility. He will be much missed by everyone and we extend our deepest sympathies to his family and friends.”