Tributes are paid to Henry McDonald, News Letter journalist, who is dead at 57
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Henry had been this newspaper for almost exactly a year, having had a 23-year association with The Guardian and The Observer newspapers, latterly as their Ireland correspondent.
His life came to an end today at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, surrounded by his family.
During a career in journalism spanning five decades, he wrote extensively on the second IRA ceasefire and the political wrangling that ultimately led to the Belfast Agreement.
As well as authoring and co-authoring several books on both loyalist and republican paramilitaries, his novel Two Souls – a tale of love lost and blood shed during the Troubles – was published to critical acclaim in 2019.
In 2000 he published his biography of the then Ulster Unionist leader and first minister of Northern Ireland, David Trimble.
A father-of-three, Henry grew up in the nationalist Markets area of Belfast in the early years of the Troubles turmoil, but later was highly critical of Irish republicanism in favour of leftist political ideals, and supported the Workers Party.
Educated at St Malachy's College grammar school in the north of the city, he later read Philosophy at Queen's University, before studying journalism in Dublin.
Henry’s sister, Cathy McDonald, said: "Henry was writing since he was able to put a pencil in his hand. He was an amazing brother."
The News Letter editor Ben Lowry said: "We are distraught at the death of Henry, our much loved political editor, at the far too young age of 57. We were delighted when such an outstanding journalist joined our team last year, and from his very first day here he was bursting with ideas and stories. In fact Henry's start coincided with a work experience student whom he took in hand, advised and brought out on the road to political stories, a typical display of his energy and generosity.
"Henry's death leaves a major hole in the paper, and all the staff send their deepest sympathies to his family."
Henry McDonald's mother Florence was a dressmaker and father Tom a labourer. His first break into journalism was almost three years spent with the Irish News between 1989 and 1991, including being sent to the Middle East to report on the Gulf War.
This experience led to the young reporter writing his first book – about the Irish Army peacekeeping troops in Lebanon.
Noel Doran, editor of the Irish News, said: "I was very sorry to learn of the Henry's death this evening. He was an old friend, a talented writer and one of the great characters of Belfast journalism. I send on the sympathies of everyone at the Irish News to your staff."
While working for the Evening Press in Dublin he attended the scene of the 1993 Shankill bombing and then the Greysteel atrocity the following week.
However, he has frequently described the 1998 Omagh bomb, that claimed the lives of 29 people as well as unborn twins, as the story that had the most impact on him emotionally.
Away from political journalism, Henry was a passionate supporter of both Everton and Cliftonville football clubs and was a regular attender at both stadiums.
He was also a familiar face on the Belfast punk rock scene in the early 80s and retained a love of music throughout his life, developing a more eclectic taste in music over the years.
In 2018, Henry became aware he had a serious heart condition, and it was due to this diagnosis that doctors subsequently discovered he also had a cancerous tumour in his stomach which required chemotherapy, and which he later seemed to have defeated. More recently Henry developed sepsis and was also informed that his cancer had returned.
Only weeks ago, aware of his diagnosis, he told his editor that he was itching to get back to cover all the ongoing political developments in Northern Ireland.
On Twitter, former Belfast Telegraph editor Gail Walker described Henry as an “outstanding journalist.
She said: "Very sorry to learn of the death of Henry McDonald. He was an outstanding journalist and writer as well as great conversation. His political analysis was first class, informed and always fair.”
Media commentator and journalist Nick Garbutt said: “An incredible talent, and a good mate. I only re-read his INLA book a week or so back. Such a great writer, such a great guy and such a sad loss.”
Responding to news of Henry’s death on social media, the News Letter's Charlie Warmington said: “Oh no – I worked with him past and present. Never knew his family but all my thoughts and condolences go to them, in abundance – he was a very special friend and colleague.”
Henry McDonald is survived by his sister Cathy McDonald, partner Charlotte Blease and children Lauren, Ellen and Patrick.