Joy Graham last night spoke about the loss of her son Neil – a music-loving, church-going engineering student with plans to open his own business – as the family prepares to bury him tomorrow.
Neil was hurt in an incident involving a tractor in rural Fermanagh on Tuesday.
The youngest of four children, the teenager had one day intended to follow his father Eddie into the Orange Order.
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The family is no stranger to tragedy – Joy had lost her brother Ronnie in an IRA gun attack in Fermanagh.
“I could talk all night about the warm words I’d have for him, our lovely son,” she told the News Letter last night.
“He was a wonderful, caring, loving son.
“He loved cars, he loved country music, he had a girlfriend – he’d everything going for him.
“We loved him so much, and we’re going to miss him so much.”
He had left Portora Royal School in Enniskillen after doing his GCSEs, and “wanted to follow his love for machinery”.
He began a course in land-based engineering in South West College in Omagh.
As part of this, he was doing a work placement three days a week.
It was while he was on one of these work experience sessions at a garage in the Boho Road area, to the west of Enniskillen, that the incident unfolded at about 2.30pm on Tuesday.
“He was doing what he loved,” said his mother.
“He loved it so much – it’s such a tragic accident he’s taken from us.”
She said they have been receiving support from across the community, and their Church of Ireland minister in particular.
The family are not yet fully certain of all the details of the incident (which is still under investigation by safety experts) but it is understood Neil was repairing a tractor, and a part fell on him.
Emergency services attended, but he died at the scene.
Joy said he had been “way ahead in his coursework and had great things ahead”.
She added: “He wanted his own business. That’s what he’d have loved – that was his dream.
“He was trying to get his qualifications, learn his trade, and open his own business some day as a tractor mechanic.
“He enjoyed farming with his dad as well, part time. He loved his animals – he had hens, a goat, a dog.
“He was a great people person. He loved country music and jiving, going to the country jamborees. He was a great boy – a lovely caring boy.”
Neil lived with his family in Garrison, close to the border with Leitrim and Donegal, and had been seeing his girlfriend since last November.
On July 19, he would have turned 18.
“We’ve a close family here,” added Joy. “We’re just all trying to support each other to get through this difficult time.
“We live in a mixed community here and we’ve had great support from everyone.”
She added that their minister in particular – a Nigerian woman called Rev Ngozi Njoku – has “been absolutely fabulous”.
Neil was a regular churchgoer with the rest of the family, and when it comes to the Orange Order he had been “hoping to join very shortly”.
In a previous episode of heartbreak for the family, Joy’s brother Ronnie Funston (an ex-UDR member) was shot dead by the IRA in March 1984 as he was preparing to feed cattle early in the morning on a farm at Lowery near Pettigo.
“Unfortunately I know only too much what it’s like to experience tragedy like this,” she said.
Neil’s funeral will be held on Friday at Garrison Parish Church at 2pm, before he is buried in the adjoining churchyard.
Prior to that, there is to be a short removal service at the parish church at 8pm tonight (open to all) before Friday’s main service and burial.
Among those lamenting the 17-year-old’s loss yesterday was former first minister Arlene Foster.
She said the death was “immensely sad news for the Garrison community,” and that Neil was “a well-known, young man with his life in front of him”.