Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Shock at sudden death of former councillor

News of the sudden passing of former Slieve Gullion SDLP councillor Geraldine Donnelly on Saturday morning last prompted a profound sense of shock and sadness, not only in her home town of Crossmaglen, but across the entire council district and beyond.

Mrs Donnelly (69) took ill and passed away unexpectedly while on holiday with her family in Spain.  The party travelled on Friday and it’s believed she began to feel unwell soon after arriving.

A devoted wife, mother and grandmother, Geraldine was particularly well-known for her work as a councillor with Newry and Mourne District Council to which she was elected in 2005.  A popular politician whose unassuming and approachable demeanour gained her the utmost respect across the political spectrum, she held the post of Deputy Mayor in 2011/2012 before retiring from the council in 2016 after eleven years serving the people of south Armagh.  

Geraldine’s successor Pete Byrne expressed his shock at the news of her untimely passing and led tributes to his party colleague, describing her as “a beacon of integrity”: 

“Words have failed me all day and I still don’t fully believe that Geraldine is no longer with us,” he said.  “Geraldine was a lady in every sense of the word and she will be sorely missed by all who knew her.  Her gentle soul and kind nature was her greatest strength as a public representative.”

Councillor Byrne added, “For 11 years she quietly represented the people of south Armagh with dignity and respect.  She was a beacon of integrity and never wavered from her principles. She was passionately SDLP and I was honoured to follow in her footsteps and continue her work.

“My thoughts are with Sean and her family at this difficult time. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam.  Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.”

Newry SDLP paid tribute on its Facebook page saying: “It was with a deep sense of shock and profound sadness that we learned of the death of our esteemed colleague, former Councillor and dear friend Geraldine Donnelly.

“An outstanding public representative, devoted wife, mother and grandmother Geraldine was kind, caring and considerate to everyone she met.  She was someone we all truly respected and held in the highest regard.

“Her untimely passing will leave a huge void within her family and the community of South Armagh and the greater Newry area whom she served with grace and integrity.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with her husband Sean, her daughters Sandra and Karen, son Niall and wider family circle at this difficult time.”

Before moving into frontline politics, Mrs Donnelly held the receptionist role in the SDLP constituency office in Newry where she worked closely alongside former MLA Dominic Bradley for more than 15 years.

He says the area is in deep shock at her passing and, offering deepest sympathy to her bereaved family, he paid a glowing tribute to his colleague and friend: “I worked with Geraldine in the SDLP constituency office in Newry for fifteen years, I spent weeks on end with her, canvassing at numerous elections and attending many events in the area.  It was a pleasure to be in Geraldine’s company on those occasions down through the years.  

“The first thing one noticed about Geraldine was her deep love for her family, for her husband Sean and for her children and latterly for her grandchildren.  They will miss her greatly.

“Her loving nature imbued her work and was evident in the empathy she had for constituents who came to her for help with health, social, financial, or housing problems.  Geraldine put her heart and soul into solving their problems and making their lives better. She had high standards and was never satisfied with anything less than success.  Geraldine’s approach was persuasion, not coercion.  An initial refusal from officialdom only spurred her on to redouble her efforts, to knock another door, to speak to another contact, to present the case in another form until her persuasive manner melted the resolve of officials and brought about a positive result for her clients. 

 “Geraldine’s courage in standing up for peace and justice won her the admiration of people from all backgrounds throughout Ireland.  She was strong in her promotion of peace and in her opposition to violence.  She stood in solidarity with all victims, with the families of the Disappeared, with the Quinn family, and with the victims of the Glenanne Gang.  Her political legacy is a shining example to all those who aspire to public office at any level and we are all the better for having known Geraldine.  Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam uasal.”

Party colleague, and current SDLP MLA for Newry and Armagh, Justin McNulty, lauded Geraldine’s qualities both in a political and personal perspective 

He said:”The love and dedication Geraldine gave to her family, she also gave to the people she met and to anyone who needed help. She was one of the most empathetic people I’ve ever met and her warmth and friendly nature was extraordinary. She had a heart of gold. 

“Geraldine had a special way with people and supported those in need in every situation. She gave uncompromising loving support to Breege and Stephen Quinn through the most tragic terrible times. 

“Geraldine was a woman of the community, a woman of faith and a proud South Armagh woman. She was passionate about Crossmaglen Rangers and Armagh GAA. 

“Geraldine will be sadly missed by her husband Sean, her son Niall and her daughters Karen and Sandra, her sisters, her grandchildren, her wider family, friends and her entire community. 

“One of Geraldine’s last social media posts referenced Orwell’s quote about society drifting away from the truth. Geraldine was never afraid to speak the truth. I feel lucky to have known Geraldine for more than 30 years. Her honesty, work ethic, tenacity, warmth and compassion for people inspired me. She had a soul of love and bravery. 

Go dtuga Dia suaimhneas sioraí dí.”

 SDLP party leader Colum Eastwood said he is “shocked and deeply saddened” to hear of Mrs Donnelly’s sudden passing. 

“Words cannot do her kind, warm and generous spirit justice.  Geraldine was the beating heart of the SDLP in Armagh and was loved by everyone who knew her. My thoughts are with Sean and her family,” he said.

On behalf of his party, Sinn Fein councillor and Chairperson of Newry Mourne and Down District Council, Charlie Casey, offered sincere condolences to Mrs Donnelly’s bereaved family.

He said: “We are all shocked to learn of the sudden death of Geraldine Donnelly who served with Newry & Mourne District Council from 2005 to 2016. She served as Deputy Mayor in 2011 whilst I was Mayor the same year and we worked well together to serve the communities of Newry & Mourne.

“Geraldine was a well respected public representative and on behalf of my party and my colleagues I extend deepest sympathies to Geraldine’s husband Seán, and the family.”

Sinn Fein MLA Megan Fearon also extended her sympathy.  She said: “So sorry to hear of Geraldine Donnelly’s untimely passing. She was a well-respected representative of the south Armagh community for years. She was warm, friendly and very easy to work with. Thinking of her family and friends at this difficult time. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam.”

While Slieve Gullion Sinn Fein councillor Barra Ó Muirí added: “Sad to hear of the death of former Councillor Geraldine Donnelly, a lady who always had a nice word to say and always had a smile on her face. Go ndéana Dia trócaire ar a hanam dílis.”

Geraldine Donnelly was a highly respected and valued former member on the Board of Governors of St. Joseph’s High School, Crossmaglen.  On hearing of her untimely passing, Principal of St. Joseph’s HS, Mrs Marie Millar, offered the sympathy of the entire school community.

She said: “On behalf of the pupils, parents, staff and governors of St Joseph’s High School, we would like to express our shock and sadness at the sudden passing of a much cherished and respected former long standing member of our Board of Governors. “Geraldine was held in the highest regard and for those of us who had the privilege of working with her, we were humbled by her kindness, compassion, generosity of spirit and dedication to the family of St Joseph’s High School.  Geraldine always had the young people of South Armagh at the centre of every decision she made when serving our school community.  A true lady who gave tirelessly of her time to help others. 

“Geraldine will be greatly missed but remembered fondly by all of us lucky enough to have known her. Our sincere sympathy, thoughts and prayers are with Sean, Sandra, Karen, Niall and her wider family circle and friends at this difficult time.”

At the time of going to press, funeral arrangements had yet to be confirmed.