Parish grieves loss of inspirational teenager
Seldom has the loss of someone so young left an entire community feeling as bereft as that in Dromintee following the tragic death of Peter Hughes on Sunday last.
The teenager died alongside his two friends, Conall Havern from Newry and Gavin Sloan from Attical, – both aged 20 – in a collision on the A1 while returning home from Belfast.
All three were students of Queen’s University and it is believed they were in the city to organise accommodation for the incoming term.
At just 19-years-old, Peter packed a great deal into his short life and was held in the highest esteem, not just in his own community, but among all those whose lives he touched.
A past pupil of St. Paul’s High School in Bessbrook, where he held the prestigious position of Head Boy in his final year, Peter Hughes excelled both academically and in the field of sport. A talented senior footballer with his local club, he was also a member of Queen’s GAA team.
Throughout the week, hundreds of tributes were paid to Peter and his friends following the tragedy. His former principal, Jarlath Burns, described him as “a perfect role model and a total charmer” and said the entire school community was numb with grief.
Colm McCoy, Chairman of Dromintee GFC, said he was “an invaluable member” whose passing has left “a great void”.
Hundreds formed queues to visit the family home at Carrickbroad during the wake and offer sympathy to his heartbroken parents, Paul and Sharon, and siblings Kevin, Jennifer and Ryan. And the entire parish of Dromintee came to a standstill for Peter’s Funeral Mass on Wednesday as his team mates from Dromintee GAC and Queen’s GAA club formed guards of honour at the church while pupils from St. Paul’s High School lined the route of the cortege.
Mourners heard parish priest Fr Dermot Maloney describe the occasion as a “very sad day for the parish and the community”.
He paid tribute to Peter’s contribution to his former school: “In St Paul’s, Peter was head boy where he took his responsibilities very seriously. He loved St Paul’s and the St Paul’s community loved him,” he said, adding that he was “a role model to younger pupils”.
Fr Maloney praised Peter’s outstanding ability to be a friend to everyone: “He had many friends, he always included others who were on the outside, that was typical of Peter, he would draw others into the company.
“Peter Hughes was a rock to so many, his family and his friends. While we are in mourning at the loss of Peter, we are consoled by the fact that during his short life he showed much love,” he added.
In an emotional tribute to his eldest child, Paul Hughes addressed the packed church and the many outside listening via loudspeakers, describing Peter as their “special boy” and vowed that he would “always be our shining light”.
Mr Hughes said Peter was “adored” by the whole family: “Me and your mum, we really loved you so. Kevin, Jenna and Ryan – you were their shining light, you were their big brother as you still are this night.
“Your aunties and your uncles, they were so proud of you, your cousins loved you dearly and in you a friend they found. Your two grannies and your grandad, they thought the world of you. Your countless friends and team-mates were not afraid to shed a tear – you were their inspiration throughout your brief and fun-filled years.
“Every parent so rightly thinks their child is a special child, Peter you were our special boy, we always saw you smile. We will miss you dearly Peter, you were our special one, there wasn’t a moment passed when we weren’t proud to call you son.
“Now the time has come to say goodbye and you have to move along, Peter you will always be our shining light and we must all remain so strong,” he told the visibly moved congregation.
The funeral of Peter’s close friend, Conall Havern, was held in St. Mary’s Church in Newry on Thursday.
Mourners heard how Conall was a talented athlete and musician who loved the Irish language and had “touched the lives of many people in lots of different ways”.
Sinn Féin’s Caitriona Ruane, a family friend, paid a moving tribute to the young man describing him as “intelligent, thoughtful, loving and funny”.
Pupils from his former schools, Bunscoil an Iúir Primary School and the Abbey Grammar School stood silently outside the church as Fr Tony Corr described how the three friends had “so much to look forward to and sadly their lives have ended in a tragic way”.
He said Conall had grown into a “kind, unassuming, thoughtful and humorous young man” and achieved much success in his studies and sport.
“Despite the fact that his father Mark died suddenly in January 2014, Conall passed his A-levels and secured himself a place at Queen’s University to study chemical engineering,” he said.
“At Queen’s, he met his friends, Peter Hughes and Gavin Sloan. Conall and Peter had so much in common, they liked to play poker and had a great love for sport. Conall played for Saville GAC, played hurling for the Shamrocks, soccer for Ballybot and was also a member of a running club. He was an avid Down fan and supporter of Liverpool football team,” he told the congregation.
The third victim of the tragedy, Gavin Sloan, was also laid to rest on Wednesday following requiem Mass in St Colman’s Church, Massforth. Gavin is survived by his parents Liam and Eilish and brother Paul. The 20-year-old student was studying law at QUB and had been described as “an exemplary student, conscientious and hard-working”.
Meanwhile, in the wake of this recent tragedy, it emerged that plans to improve safety along the A1 dual carriageway between Lisburn and border will be confirmed over the coming weeks.
A spokesperson for the Department for Regional Development (DRD) said a significant amount of development work has already been progressed on the scheme adding that “the preferred option for the proposal, which is estimated to cost in the range of £40m-£50m, will be confirmed in the coming weeks”.