Poignant farewell to loyal ‘servant of the people’

October 6, 2014

The heavy rain fell unrelentingly on hundreds of mourners who turned out on Friday morning to pay their final respects to one of Crossmaglen’s most esteemed and valued citizens.

Dubbed “The champion of the people”, Eugene Donaghy passed away at his home on Wednesday morning,  just a week shy of his 80th birthday.

A tireless campaigner, Eugene dedicated his long life to improving facilities and services in his local community.  That devotion was reflected in the huge numbers who passed through the family home on the Newry Road, offering sympathy and consolation to his heart-broken family.

Over the years, Eugene’s resolute determination and persistence led to the formation of many facilities now enjoyed by the people of Crossmaglen and surrounding areas.

But it is for one of these – Crossmaglen Fire Station – that he is best known and admired.  Virtually single-handedly he campaigned for a fire service in the town, a battle that was waged for almost twenty years before his dream was realized in 1974.

His labour of love was rewarded on Friday when he was afforded the full trappings of a fallen fire officer at his poignant funeral service.

As the cortege travelled the short distance from his home to the church, black flags fluttered on a single fire engine leading the procession in honour of the brigade’s fallen colleague.  His coffin was borne by colleagues from Crossmaglen Fire Station, the remainder of whom provided a guard of honour alongside.

Several high profile officers, including a number of the services’ Area Commanders, formed a guard of honour as Eugene’s remains entered St. Patrick’s Church to the sound of the fire horn from the nearby station.

Mourners heard parish priest, Fr. Joe McKeever, recall Eugene’s many charitable deeds, from the formation of the town’s Youth Club and Community Centre, to the transport scheme for the elderly and the Enterprise Centre, he was the central figure in every project aimed at improving facilities in the locality.

Describing him as “an outstanding and dedicated servant” to Crossmaglen and its people, Fr. McKeever said Eugene’s passion for people propelled his determination to seek improvement and prosperity for his hometown.

Liking his achievements to those in local GAA circles, he added: “A true son of Cross’…his championship victories were all won on the playing fields of serving his community.”

At the conclusion of the ceremony, Eugene’s close friend and former Fire Service colleague, Gerard McMonagle, recited a moving eulogy, while the ringing of the bell by Watch Commander of Crossmaglen Fire Station, Colin Stuttard, signalled Eugene’s “last alarm” call and a final salute to their friend.

Eulogy in full: “The Fire Service of today is ever changing, yet still retains a language of its own, with expressions and customs stretching throughout its history reflecting the culture and the development of its organisation and technology.

One such tradition is the sound of the bell. The bell has a special place in that history and language has played both a practical and symbolic role.

The bell was used to alert crews and to initiate the response, sending firefighters scurrying to the stations and appliances. It gave warning of movement through the streets on their way to incidents. It also gave reassurance to those in need, who on hearing the bell, knew that help was on the way.

“Sadly the bell was also used, and remains in use, to give dignified acknowledgement to the fate of a fallen colleague. It symbolises the devotion that these brave souls had for their duty. The sounding of the bell reflects the honour and respect on those who have given so much and who have served so well. It is for the fallen, the last alarm.  Eugene is one such highly regarded, much respected and greatly missed colleague.

“Eugene was an unsung hero – he put his life on the line on many occasions, and there are many who owe their lives to him. He was a great servant of the community and today we honour our colleague as we dedicate this solemn last ceremony to his memory.  For Eugene the bell tolls: ‘They have pushed themselves to the edge of endurance and sometimes far beyond. Wherever flames may rage could be the last alarm.’

“Go brother Eugene, your duty is done. You have answered your last alarm.”

Extending sympathy on behalf of his crew to Eugene’s family, the head of Crossmaglen station, Colin Stuttard, reflected on Eugene’s continued contribution on a local level.

“Eugene set a standard of excellence all those years ago that we endeavor to uphold to this day and pass it down for generations to come.  We will sadly miss his regular visits to our station – I believe he was checking in on us, to make sure his high standards were being maintained.

“Keen that the history of the station would be known to all who work here, and even when his health had deteriorated, Eugene sat with us while we documented the story of Crossmaglen Fire Station, and now our story board history is proudly mounted on our wall.

“Eugene, you will be sadly missed and never forgotten.  Your legacy will live on for generations to come.”

Paying his own tribute to Eugene, Sinn Fein Councillor, Terry Hearty, said news of his passing was met with great sadness.

“From being elected to the Council in 2001, I worked with Eugene on many different projects to enhance the Crossmaglen area.   Eugene had great passion for the people and the area and got great satisfaction from helping others.  Eugene achieved a lot for the area in his many years in Crossmaglen Community Association, especially the work and effort he put in to keeping the Community Association ‘Red Bus’ on the road, which was a vital service and a lifeline to people in the rural areas.

“Eugene will be greatly missed, he was truly a man of the people and the area,” he added.

Extending her sympathy to Eugene’s family, SDLP Councillor Geraldine said he was a great servant of  Crossmaglen.

“He was a real community worker, having spent his life working to enhance the lives of local people in whatever way he could do so.  Perhaps he will be remembered best for his contribution to the establishment of the Fire and Rescue Service in Crossmaglen, his tenacious campaigning to ensure that the town had the best possible facilities to keep the local population safe.  Even when the powers that be fell short, Eugene’s ingenuity produced the famous pump which shamed them into affording better provision to the area,” she recalled.

“Eugene Donaghy was a true gentleman whose heart was always in the right place.”

Adding his tribute, Dominic Bradley MLA said the community owes Eugene “a huge debt of gratitude”: “The only thanks which he sought was the satisfaction of knowing that his efforts had made things better for others.  To his wife, sons, and daughters I extend my deepest sympathy.  Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal”.

Eugene is survived by his wife Patty, sons Eoin and David, daughters Marguerite and Cathy, grandchildren Lauren and Nathan, sister Mary and brother Brendan, to whom deepest sympathy is extended.