THE body of a popular Rathlin Island publican has been recovered from the sea just off the Antrim coast.
It is believed Johnny Currie, who was in his 60s, fell overboard from his boat.
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 life boat crew found Mr Currie’s body around one mile off Rue Point shortly before 7pm.
Coastguard officers from Ballycastle and Portrush, and a helicopter from Prestwick, Scotland, were also involved in the search.
Rob Steventon, watch manager, Belfast Coastguard, said: “We believe the occupant of the boat may well have fallen overboard as there was rope caught around the propeller.”
Seamus Blaney, a councillor in Ballycastle, said Mr Currie was a popular figure.
He added: “Johnny was well known, not only in Ballycastle. I would say anybody in the boating fraternity would know him very well. He ran fishing trips and that sort of thing. Anything to do with the sea, Johnny was about it.”
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, said: “Mr Currie was essentially, Mr Rathlin Island. His endeavours for the island community and its sustainability was essential in ensuring the strategic development of the only inhabited island in the North.
“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 Currie 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 said: “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 Currie. Johnny died doing what he loved to do, playing the waters around the Island.”