Brackaville man Pat Hughes was truly a people person as generations of folk throughout the parish of Coalisland doubtless know well, because he was the man who penned many of the special tributes to their departed loved ones which appeared in The Democrat, a copy of which was amongst the Offertory Gifts at a moving Requiem Mass on Friday.
So it’s little wonder then that such widespread grief and mourning was occasioned when Pat, born on Chapel Hill but who resided for most of his life in Roughan Way, passed to his eternal reward peacefully last Tuesday after a relatively short illness.
He trained in Belfast to be a barman and worked in the pubs for quite a long time in Dungannon and Coalisland, later going into the building trade with family members.
Well-read Pat always had a passion for penning interesting and entertaining stories of days gone by, and was gifted by the fact that he had a wonderful memory - and also kept lots of old newspaper cuttings as a reference guide.
Indeed, he was a great source of information and inspiration for myself. Given that we were writing nostalgia articles for competing publications, I made sure to limit the times when I troubled him to check a fact or ensure someone’s name was correct.
Indeed, it was more often a case of Pat giving me a quick ring to get a wee article on my pages, bits that were not appropriate for his own outlet - and in situations where he didn’t want to be seen as the originator of the material. All writers have reasons for sometimes needing to get a point across, whilst retaining anonymity. But it was always totally innocent material and never offensive to anyone.
I first got to know Pat in the early 1960s when I, as a sixteen year old, had reason to frequent the Brackaville area on a regular basis, and Pat was involved with Johnny Fay, Jim McGivern and my future father-in-law, Tommy Kelly as founder members of Coalisland Athletic Club.
Pat, once involved with SDLP and a great Civil Rights supporter, was very easy to get to know and he had a warm and genuinely caring personality and he really enjoyed the athletics scene, whilst also nurturing his interest in many other sporting pastimes, including GAA, horse and dog racing, and was an amateur boxing judge for years.
A passionate ex-player and loyal supporter of Brackaville Owen Roes, he always relished the historic rivalry between the Roughan club and the traditional followers of Coalisland Fianna (the ones in Annagher).
And, in a naughty - if not mischievous - way, with a knowing twinkle in his eye and a trademark smile on his face, I know he especially loved to get his message across that the townland of Brackaville actually extended all the way down Coalisland’s Main Street into Stewartstown Road. From the first time he mentioned that, I wasn’t brave enough to dispute the veracity of it with a man blessed with such a wealth of knowledge of the district and its heritage. My simple belief is that, if Pat Hughes said it’s a fact, no more need be said!
Another great love of his life was Coalisland Cinema, where he worked for a time. He got great pleasure from going to the pictures down the line and was great pals with the longtime manager, Gerry Shields, as well as many of his peers with a similar passion for old movies. And he was especially proud of Brackaville man Willie John Corey who sent to Hollywood in 1930s and, as Bill Shawn, became a film star.
His nostalgia pieces often opened with scene-setters reminding folk of the top films and their stars from the year in question, as well as the obligatory rundown on top twenty songs and their singers from ‘the hit parade’.
Pat, who’d have been 80 had he lived until January and was predeceased by younger brother Oliver, cherished life and had simple pleasures. His loss is felt across the community and I extend my sympathy to surviving sister Vera, his family members and many friends. I already miss his phone calls.