Funeral service for journalist Henry McDonald in the city he loved
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More than 500 people, including many household names from the world of news reporting and politics, packed into the Oh Yeah Music Centre in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter for a non-religious celebration of the 57-year-old’s life.
The service was led by Humanist celebrant Janni Knox and included family memories recalled by Henry’s daughter Lauren and, in a reflection of Henry’s life, there was music, laughter and friendship.
He had many great loves outside of his close family circle, including an eclectic taste in music, but he was a true, lifelong devotee of both Everton and Cliftonville football clubs.
As such, the service began with the Everton ‘Z-cars’ anthem – the theme tune that announces the players’ arrival on the pitch at Goodison Park – said to have sent a tingle down his spine every time he heard it.
It was particularly poignant as the club paid tribute to Henry last weekend by displaying his photo on the big screen, with a tribute marking his passing.
At Cliftonville’s Solitude ground there was a minute’s applause ahead of the club’s game against Glentoran.
At the Oh Yeah centre on Tuesday there was a spontaneous round of applause as the wicker casket, draped in Everton and Cliftonville scarves, was carried to the front of the room.
Mourners heard how Henry had “friendships and links everywhere,” and how a large number of journalists from all around the world owe a huge debt of gratitude to Henry for his camaraderie and expertise as they attempted to make sense of the turmoil in Northern Ireland.
In her own tribute, Ms Knox said: “Henry loved life, and he certainly made his time count in everything that he did. He was a people person and had a huge sense of humour.”
She added: "He cared deeply about the people and the topics he wrote about.”
Tributes were also paid to Henry for his work in supporting the establishment of Oakwood integrated primary school near Dunmurry.
A friend since meeting at a post-graduate journalism course at Dublin City University in 1988, Ed O’Loughlin recalled Henry breezing in on the first day, dressed like a young James Dean and almost as cool.
"He reported from around the world, but his first love was always Belfast,” Ed said.
Another close friend, Arthur Magee, paid his own tribute to Henry in beautifully poignant song, with the line: “His love is a light that shines down on me.”
Henry was also described as a “doting father” who loved introducing his children to the Star Wars films and sharing pizza with them on movie nights.
Daughter Lauren shared many of her precious memories of an “extraordinary person”, and listed the many ways in which her dad enriched all of their lives – encouraging a love of travel and exploring new places, promoting generosity, inspiring them to stand up against injustice and to reject sectarianism.
She said he also taught them valuable lessons in how to appreciate the good things in life, and the importance of cherishing even the smallest of blessings or good fortune.
"Do the things that make you happy… appreciate the little things in life… have humility and have respect for those who disagree with you,” were some of the other words of wisdom Henry had for his family.
"You will continue to have an impact on our lives,” Lauren’s emotional tribute concluded.
Fellow journalist Hugh Jordan, with his ukulele, performed a favourite song of Henry’s, Mack the Knife, and, in a blast from Henry’s Belfast punk past, and in keeping with his anti-sectarian ethos, there was a blast of Stiff Little Fingers’ Alternative Ulster.
One of Henry’s favourite poems was also read as the service drew to a close.
"To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside, and hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide,” the evocative words of DH Lawrence.
Henry had been ill for some time and died on February 19, surrounded by his family.
He is survived by his sister Cathy McDonald, partner Charlotte Blease and children Lauren, Ellen and Patrick.