MOURNERS from Northern Ireland, the Scottish Isles and further afield travelled to Rathlin Island yesterday for the funeral of one of the island’s most popular characters, who drowned at the weekend.
Johnny Curry, 66, was travelling from Rathlin to Ballycastle when he fell overboard.
A large search and rescue operation was launched after a ferry passing the area reported they saw a boat with no one on board between Ballycastle and Rathlin Island at around 5pm on Saturday.
A Red Bay lifeboat crew found Mr Curry’s body around one mile off Rue Point nearly two hours later.
Mr Curry was an experienced boatman and was highly-regarded in the seafaring community around Rathlin and Ballycastle, which added to the sense of shock when it emerged on Saturday evening that his body was found in the water after he went out on his boat, Island Star.
It is thought something snagged in the propeller of his boat.
Around 1,000 people attended the funeral service, which was held in the small St Thomas’s Parish Church on Rathlin.
His coffin was carried past Rathlin harbour and marina and into the picturesque church overlooking the island.
Noel McCurdy, chairman of the Rathlin Development and Community Association, said: “Everyone’s devastated – it’s just so hard to take this in. All boatmen certainly have a high regard for the sea, and so would Johnny.
“Johnny would go out to get people back on the island when conditions weren’t good, and yet sadly he lost his life on one of the calmest days of the year.”
Chairman of Moyle District Council, Padraig McShane, described Mr Curry as “Mr Rathlin Island”.
“A larger-than-life character, he will be sorely missed by all who knew him, not only from Moyle but by his many friends on the Scottish islands also. Mr Curry commanded the respect of all seafaring people given his vast experience of the waters locally.
“This fact only compounds the tragedy for the local community.”
Photographer Kevin McAuley also paid tribute to his friend.
“I knew Johnny well. He was a gentleman in every sense of the word, would do anything to help anyone and would have taken anyone to any place by sea, distance was never a problem for Johnny.
“I travelled with him on many occasions to and from Rathlin Island and to the Scottish islands.
“We had some great times together and his craic and fun was mighty.”
On the Facebook page, Friends and Residents of Rathlin, Michael Cecil wrote: “Rathlin and the much wider community is in total shock today at the untimely death of Islander Johnny Curry. Johnny died doing what he loved to do, playing the waters around the island.”