Owen Donnelly was one of Larne’s best known businessmen and a highly respected member of the local community.
Born in the town on July 11, 1937, he was the son of Dan and Lily Donnelly, who lived at Kent Avenue and one of eight of a family; his siblings were Pat, Sheila (deceased), Anne, Kathleen, Wendy, Michael and Frankie (deceased).
He attended the McKenna Memorial School at Agnew Street in the town and then Larne Technical School, leaving by the age of 15 years to start work with a local butcher (Smiley George) and also on his farm, becoming an additional breadwinner – as the eldest son - for the Donnelly family through the difficult years of the 1940s.
The work ethic which he showed at such an early age carried through the rest of his life and he continued to work in his butcher’s shop at the age of 82.
While working with Smiley George, Owen Donnelly also worked on D shift at the Imperial Chemicals Industry (ICI) plant at Carrickfergus.
He subsequently bought the butchers shop on Larne Main Street from Smiley George in the early 1970s and was a landmark figure in the local business community.
Owen Donnelly married Nancy McGaughey of Cushendall and the couple had four children, one of whom, Fiona, sadly passed away at the age of 11 months.
He was a former President of the Master Butchers Association and also a keen sportsman, being a Past President of the NI Pigeon Association for many years and President of Larne HPS at the time of his death, having held that position for over 30 years.
He served on the NIPA committee for over 40 years and his brother Michael was secretary of the Larne Pigeon Club for 25 years.
Owen Donnelly was also a keen observer of cricket and a supporter of Manchester United Football Club.
He was also a keen cyclist and had cycled around Ireland three times, his favourite area being Galway, where he used to take his young family on holidays.
A man with strong Christian beliefs, he was a regular attender at St. Anthony’s Church in Larne and was a collector each Sunday there.
His many acts of kindness have become clear to his family following his passing, with many tributes being paid in the town.
His support for all the various clubs and schools in Larne through donations and sponsorship was well known, but less so the simple acts of kindness to people around him.
This included going to the local supermarket for a man who was unable to get to the shops and phoned Owen Donnelly to ask if he could collect groceries for him, giving people lifts and delivering meat orders to them if they could not get into the town.
He never drank or smoked but would always help out behind the bar at the Pigeon Club in Larne on a Sunday evening.
Owen Donnelly continued to work in his butcher shop at the age of 82, and the day before he had to go into hospital for the last time was in his familiar surroundings at the Main Street premises.
Diagnosed with multiple myeloma in May 2017, he continued to work throughout his chemotherapy treatment, providing an inspiration within his family and beyond.
Mr Donnelly died peacefully in Belfast City Hospital and his funeral took place at St. MacNissis’ Church, where he had been baptised close to the family home at Kent Avenue, the celebrant for Requiem Mass being Fr. O’Brien, Parish Priest.
Interment took place at Larne Cemetery.
There was a special tribute in the church by the choir, while a harpist also played.
The family thanked the Pigeon Club for the tea they provided for mourners in memory of Owen, and also Gardenmore Presbyterian Church for the flowers sent as well as the many well-wishers who sent cards and messages on social media.
Donations in lieu of flowers were encouraged to The Friends of the Cancer Centre (the local Belfast City Hospital cancer charity) c/o Michael McSparron Funeral Director, The Cottage Funeral Home, Victoria Rd. Larne.
Mr. Donnelly is survived by his wife Nancy and children Mandy, Michelle and Owen, the latter of whom travelled from Australia with his son Ethan to say their goodbyes, and a wide family circle including sons-in-law and grandchildren.
The butchers shop, one of Larne’s long-term business landmarks, will continue to be run by the Donnelly family.
Larne Football Club also paid tribute to Owen Donnelly prior to their home match against Dungannon Swifts on September 21, when a one minute applause was held at Inver Park in his honour.