Community pays tribute to Declan Small killed in the Gillingham helicopter crash

Declan Small

Declan Small - Credit: Archant

A worker killed in the helicopter crash at Gillingham alongside Lord Ballyedmond, was planning for the future with his girlfriend and building a new home, mourners have been told.

Hundreds attended St Patrick's Church in Mayobridge, Northern Ireland, yesterday where they heard Declan Small described as a highly skilled craftsman who took great pride and joy in his work.

The 42-year-old was one of four men killed in the helicopter crash two weeks ago.

Mr Small's mother Margaret, brothers Michael, Shane and Anrai, as well as his girlfriend Bernie, walked closely behind the coffin as the cortege made its way to St Patrick's, surrounded by his family and friends.

The County Down man was a foreman for Lord Ballyedmond, one of Northern Ireland's richest men, and had been travelling with him when their helicopter crashed into a field a short distance from the peer's stately home on Thursday, March 13.

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The accident also killed the two pilots on board, Captain Carl Dickerson, 36, and Captain Lee Hoyle, 45.

Mr Small's body was taken home to Northern Ireland on Friday, with hundreds of people lining a road in Mayobridge during a candle-lit guard of honour.

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Parish priest, Father Charlie Byrne, paid tribute to Mr Small, calling him 'Lord Ballyedmond's right hand man', adding that words were 'woefully inadequate' to describe the pain that the community is feeling.

He told mourners: 'We have all experienced an unexpected power cut when the lights go out.

'Sudden death of a loved one is like that. One minute the sun is shining and everyone is smiling, then without the slightest chance to prepare ourselves we are plunged into darkness. In the space of a moment our whole life is turned upside down.'

Fr Byrne spoke of how Mr Small's family was at the centre of his life.

He said that the Norbrook Pharmaceuticals worker was very close to his mother Margaret, and took care of his father Joe who suffered from multiple sclerosis before his death seven years ago.

'Declan was well known for his love of family, love of life and steadfast faith, the eldest of Joe and Margaret Small's family of four,' the priest said.

'On leaving school he trained as a joiner with Small Brothers and was with them for about six years. He then took a job with his uncle Joe. After about seven years with Joe he went to work for Lord Ballyedmond at Norbrook and Ballyedmond Castle.

'Declan was a very skilled craftsman and always took great pride in his work. He was highly respected and very well thought of by all who worked with him and often was fondly referred to as Lord Ballyedmond's right hand man.'

Mourners were also told how Mr Small had been planning for the future with his girlfriend Bernie McDonnell.

'This past few years Declan has been building a new house for himself beside the family home. He was looking forward to soon having it completed and had found happiness with his girlfriend Bernie,' Fr Byrne said.

'Declan's life has been cut short. He has died too suddenly, too soon, but it is a tragedy that has allowed us to see the remarkable impact which Declan has made on those in his life.'

Mr Small was known for his love of many sports, especially Gaelic football, darts and golf.

Fr Byrne said that the sheer number of people at his funeral showed just how well-liked and respected he was in the local community.

He said: 'Words are woefully inadequate to express the pain and sorrow in our hearts that we have for the family.

'When death comes to someone young and under tragic circumstances as Declan's has, it robs us of not only what we possess but of hopes and dreams; so many plans, so many expectations can be no more. No mother expects to bury her child, no matter what the age.

'Declan loved sport and played Gaelic football with Mayobridge until the age of 16 and continued to be an active supporter.

'Declan was a member of Mayobridge Golf Club and also of a local darts team. He was much-loved by his many friends and was renowned for his quick wit, always game for a laugh.'

The parish priest also prayed for Lord Ballyedmond's family during the Mass, as well as the two pilots.

Lord Ballyedmond's funeral will be held at the Cathedral of St Patrick and St Colman in Newry at 11.30am today.

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