Death of Terry Donnelly in Boston shocks communities home and abroad
As I heard at least six times during my time at the wake, it shouldn’t happen and it’s not fair. Sadly, though, it does happen and the proof is all too evident in the trauma the Donnelly family, Gortnasaor have had to endure since they received the shocking news of the death at just 42 of Terry.
Terry, with no history of any medical problems whatsoever, died in his Boston home on the morning of Thursday, August 9 as he was preparing himself for another day at his work in the catering business.
By the time the ambulance arrived he had died. The many friends he had in his adopted homeland of Philadelphia, quite a few of whom were also from back home in Ireland, were devastated - and also faced the additional hardship of somehow having to break the news to his devoted father John and brothers John Justin and Chris back in Dungannon and his loving mother Marie Toal from Moy, who now lives in Australia.
Within hours shock, disbelief and sorrow was visited upon the community here where he grew up before departing for Australia - before settling down in Boston.
Any death which comes without warning brings overwhelming grief for the family, of course, but in this case that was all compounded by the fact that their loss had come six thousand miles away on the other side of the Atlantic ocean. And for his father John, there was an especially harrowing degree of helplessness in that a medical condition prevented him from jumping on a plane to be with his late son as soon as physically possible.
Fortunately, however, there was a degree of comfort because help was at hand, thankfully very close by Terry, in the shape of some very special pals.
“Gerry and Kristen Burns very kindly accompanied the remains on the journey home and they, along with many others, deserve our most grateful thanks and appreciation for the way they took charge of a very difficult situation when Terry died” said John Justin, the eldest brother.
“But there were so many of his friends who all rallied round to have a wake and a Mass in Boston and, remarkably, they had arrangements in place to have him starting the journey home in just four days - which is unheard of.
“That was such a comfort for the family, who had initally feared it could possibly run into three weeks or more” he added.
It would be wrong of me to try to name all those involved for fear of causing disappointment by leaving someone out, but they weren’t craving public gratitude, they were doing it for their great pal.
At the Requiem Mass on Friday week, Father O’Neill paid a moving tribute to Terry, whom he described as not just a brother but the best friend of John Justin and Chris, including amongst his acknowledged qualities those of being principled, kind, good and loving.
The curate recounted how a whole new chapter in Terry’s life began the day he set out for Australia and caught the permanent itchy feet of a man who loved to travel.
Both in Australia and in America, Terry had discovered a whole new family, a vast band of friends to whom he became a second son, an adopted brother. “And those two great things, his family at home and his family abroad, were more important than anything else in this world” assured Fr.O’Neill, who particularly mentioned John and Peggy, Gerry, Emmet and Kevin.
The priest also made mention of the computer screen, a device which enabled Terry to always keep in touch. “And he was always there to help, to support, to teach and to encourage them to live a good life, sharing everything he had”.
Terry was educated at the Presentation Brothers PS, St.Patricks Academy and Dungannon Technical College, his most notable sporting achievement coming when he featured at corner back for the Tech team in an All-Ireland U18 schools final at Croke Park.
Playing alongside the likes of Mattie McGleenan, Mickey Cummings and Peadar Hughes, in a team that was coached by Harry McGuigan, they lost by a solitary point to Kerry opposition before a capacity crowd in the match which was curtain-raiser to a National League Final clash between Meath and Dublin.
He never lost his passion for Gaelic Football and came home several times to witness great Tyrone successes, especially the great U21 triumphs of the early 90s featuring the terrible twins, Adrian Cush and Peter Canavan.
Of course, he couldn’t be a son of John Donnelly without being a passionate supporter of Celtic and he attended Parkhead to support the Hoops with his brothers and father on many occasions.
The man who was a fanatical U2 follower was also a keen snooker player, having featured in the East Tyrone League, and he had a special on-table friendship in his impressionable days with Patrick Wallace, both of massive fans of the flawed genius that was Alex Higgins. Mark McCausland was another of Terry’s great friends.
Terry played for The Clarkes at underage level and also had a few outings in the senior team managed by Art McRory before he emigrated to Australia at the tender age of 18.
He returned to Dungannon three years later but, in less than six months, he was off again to Boston with Gerry Burns, who had been his best pal since their P1 schooldays.
Out there he quickly gained employment with TexBBQ, an outside catering firm run by John Hall and his wife Peggy. Terry quickly became a great friend and business partner and he was a key figure in the company until he passed away earlier this month.
He had a large circle of friends in his adopted home, notably those mentioned in the Requiem Mass - Gerry and his wife Kristen, John and Peggy and buddies Emmet and Kevin.
But, for all the wonderful people with whom he bonded, both at home and abroad, Terry was a great Donnelly family man. And he especially doted on the offspring of his siblings, John Justin and Martina’s son Matthew to whom he was Godfather, and Grace, the daughter of Chris and Louise. Indeed, on the day Terry died, the postman thousands of miles away in Dungannon delivered a card for Matthew’s birthday on August 10. It is still unopened.
Terry is, sadly, gone to a better place. But the memories he has left behind will never die.
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Friday 24 May 2013
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