Sad farewell to man who was ‘a stalwart of the band world and a friend to all’

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Ballyclare Victoria Flute Band played at the funeral service for one of their much-loved members, Johnny McConnell, who passed away peacefully at hospital following a short illness.

Mr McConnell’s funeral was one of the largest seen at Ballyclare Presbyterian Church for

quite some time, a testimony of the esteem in which he was held and how well-known he was in

the local community.

Speaking at the service on December 3, Rev Robert Bell of Ballyclare Presbyterian said that

everyone was shocked by the suddenness and sadness of John McConnell’s passing, which came after a short time of illness since September.

He chose as one of his texts for the service Psalm 150, which mentions musical instruments and specifically the flute and their use in praising God.

Rev Bell spoke of the musical talent which the Ballyclare Victoria Flute Band member had, and how he delighted in playing music and in teaching others as well.

The youngest in his family, he was predeceased by his brother Jim and his sister Gretta.

His working life started at the age of ten years when he got a Saturday job with Hugh Shannon’s bakery van in the County Antrim town.

After school, his first job was in Mackies engineering plant, where he was an apprentice who showed an early aptitude for all things engineering and mechanical.

He went on to work in Michelin at Mallusk, and later for the Japanese Company, Canyon, during

which time he had opportunities to travel all over the world, which he loved – including a trip to New York on Concorde in July 1989, when Johnny told people that ‘he had arrived in New York before he left home.’

Eventually Johnny went to work for Victor Stationery in East Belfast, and when the company moved their factory to Estonia, he was given a responsible and central role in ensuring that the machinery was moved successfully and that the factory in Tallinn was operating effectively.

He travelled back and forwards to Estonia for several years, and became ill just after his most recent visit.

Mr McConnell was also a familiar figure as a taxi driver in Ballyclare for a time, and was

distinguished by always being dressed immaculately – some regular customers were known to ask for ‘the well-dressed taxi driver’ – and for his typical care for his passengers, always ensuring that senior citizens got safely into their homes with their shopping.

Married to Ella, the couple had two children, Lisa and John, both of whom followed their father into careers in engineering.

Aside from his family and his work, his other great love in life was Ballyclare Victoria Flute Band where, as an accomplished flautist, he willingly shared his musical skills and expertise with new and young players just entering into the band.

Ballyclare Victoria expressed the great sadness felt by the band and the deepest sympathy to the McConnell family, while Ballygowan Concert Flute Band took the opportunity on social media to add their condolences, describing the County Antrim man as “a stalwart of banding and friend to us all”, saying he would be sadly missed in the band fraternity.

Those present at the service heard the Rev Bell reflect that “Johnny was a real people person – he loved the craic with all sorts of people – and almost certainly, these people skills were the key to his successful working career”.

He related the love John McConnell had for his grandchildren, teaching Carter the flute, taking Ellie to the swimming pool and for picnics to the beach and travelling to Aberdeen to see Damien as he grew.

This playful sense of fun endeared him to other children as well, and the congregation was told that when the McConnells moved to The Priory development he soon got to know the neighbours and became a favourite with the children. On one occasion after he had been working in his garden all day, a child knocked the door and asked his wife Ella “if Johnny was coming out to play in the garden again”.

A man who had a great sense of fun and humour, he was able to take a joke as well as play one, and had the ability to laugh at himself as well as others.

During the service musicians from Ballyclare Victoria Flute Band played, and again at the graveside at Ballyclare cemetery.

Johnny McConnell is survived by Ella, his wife of 46 years, his daughter Lisa and her husband

Martyn, and his son John and partner Danielle, and grandchildren Carter and Ellie and Damien.

He is also survived by his sisters Agnes, Sally and Georgie and a wide family circle.

Donations in lieu of flowers were encouraged to Macmillan Cancer Support, and the funeral

arrangements were conducted by S& J Irvine Funeral Directors, Ballyclare.