Death of Dr. Mary Burns, Armoy

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ONE of North Antrim’s most respected GPs has died.

Dr. Mary Burns, formerly of Rathmullan, Co. Donegal, passed away last Wednesday at her home at Drones Road, Armoy, after a protracted illness which she bore with courage and dignity.

Dr. Burns was in her 56th year and during her lifetime she enriched the lives of many not only in her work as a doctor in Ballymoney and latterly in Ballycastle but in the huge contribution she made to the social well-being of the community in the Armoy district.

Born in Rathmullan, Co. Donegal on December 8, 1955, to parents Dr. Sean and Theresa O’Sullivan, Dr. Burns was baptised and received confirmation on the same day given that she was diagnosed a “very sick baby. She spent a period in hospital and progressed to lead a normal life.

Educated at St. Joseph’s School, Rathmullan, Loreto College, Milford, she went on to study medicine in Dublin at the Royal College of Surgeons and qualified in 1981.

Imbued with strong Christian values, Dr. Burns answered a call to ‘The Bush’ in Africa to carry out voluntary work with the Focolare Community in a hospital in Fontem, Cameroon.

The experience enriched her life and in the words of one of the Priests officiating at the funeral mass, she quickly discoverd the centrality of mutual love, building bonds of friendship with many.

The Priest went on to relate how Dr. Burns was asked to help deliver a baby to the wife of a village Chief and despite having no formal training in this area, everything went well so much so that the mother decided to call her baby ‘Dr. Burns’ and the Chief offered to make her his fifth wife - an offer she politely declined.

She subsequently returned to Rathmullan to work alongside her father in their GP practice. In June 1991 she met her future husband, Gerry and the following year they married and Dr. Burns came to settle in Armoy. They had four children, Rionach, Thomas, Conleth and Timothy.

Dr. Burns worked as a GP in Ballymoney before moving to practice in Ballycastle with the Dalriada Family Practice.

Glowing tributes were paid to her at the funeral mass on Saturday at St. Olcan’s Church, Armoy. Evidence of the respect both Dr. Burns and her family were held was evidenced by the attendance of people from all walks of life and from all parts of Ireland. Hundreds paid their respects with a marquee having to be set up to accommodate the overspill from the Chapel. Even then, scores of people had to stand outside while the service was relayed by loudspeaker.

Members of Armoy Camogie Club, hurlers from Glenshesk, Cross and Passion College and the McQuillans club in Ballycastle as well as schoolchildren from St. Olcan’s School, Armoy, and Cross and Passion formed a guard of honour for a funeral the like of which has not been seen in the village before with stewards on hand to control traffic.

During a tribute, one of the Priests recalled how both Dr. Burns and Gerry became involved in cross community work and joined Armoy Community Association.

“People must have felt her enthusiasm because she was immediately elected secretary and this set in motion a project that had huge benefits for the area,” the Priest said.

Dr. Burns played a massive part in securing a new building to replace premises known as Tilly Molloy’s. How she balanced time between a busy professional and family life to commit to so much to community work was beyond the comprehension of many. She spent endless hours negotiating with funders to secure the finances to build the new hall for the benefit of the community and proved a tough negotiator in the process.

Dr. Burns was joined by her husband, Gerry, the chairman of the Association, John Ward, vice-chair, Lyle McMullan and other committee members but she proved the principal driving force behind much of the work and the current building will stand as a lasting memorial to her undoubted enthusiasm.

She also served on outside bodies including the Board of Governors at Cross and Passion, the Friends of St. Olcan’s PS, Moyle Twinning Association and other community projects and activities.

Mourners heard that everyone she met she welcomed and her hospitality conquered all.

A Priest commented: “In her role as a GP, Mary never made any distinction with people. She saw beyond the illness to the person themselves. They would always have felt her love and gentle nature and she was very strong at calming tensions in the surgery. She was special and was made to feel special.”

Dr. Burns was proud of what she helped achieve in Armoy and both she and Gerry spoke at international conferences with delegates eager to learn of their experiences in the field of community work.

During her illness, the Priest said it was somewhat paradoxical that whenever people came to see her during her illness she was at the peak of her strength and all went away strengthened by their meeting.

The community of Armoy and beyond undoubtedly owe a debt of gratitude to a lady of substance and who, had she lived, would have contributed much more both in her work and community life. One villager was apt in her description of Dr. Burns when she said: ‘Did you ever see her lose her temper or utter a cross word?’

Dr. Burns was laid to rest in the adjoining cemetery at St. Olcan’s and became the first person to be buried in the new addition to the Cemetery.

In addition to her husband and children, Dr. Burns is survived by her brothers, Tim and Martin.

LMM