TRIBUTES have been paid to popular Rathlin boat owner Johnny Curry who died in tragic circumstances at the weekend just days ahead of his 66th birthday.
Mr Curry was an experienced boatman and was well known in the seafaring community around Rathlin and Ballycastle, so there was a real sense of shock when it emerged on Saturday evening that his body was found in the water after he went out on his boat ‘Island Star’.
Tributes have been paid by number of people. Paddy McLaughlin from the Red Bay Lifeboat was part of the search at the weekend and knew Mr Curry well.
He said: “It is an awful shock. Johnny was a great character and a real gentleman. He was always very helpful if people were near the island.
“He spent most of his life at sea. He knew the waters extremely well around the west coast of Scotland and around Ireland. He was funny man with great humour - a real Rathlin Island champion.”
Ballycastle councillor Seamus Blaney, agreed Mr Curry was a popular figure.
“Johnny was well known, not only in Ballycastle. I would say anybody in the boating fraternity across the length and breadth of Ireland 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.”
Back in February of this year voters on Rathlin Island won a campaign to keep their own ballot box.
Moyle District Council chairman Padraig McShane said the emergency response on Saturday had been “massive” with around 20 boats from Rathlin and Ballycastle searching for Mr Curry.
“He was a highly respected member of the community and would have worked for the development of Rathlin,” he said.
“The community is numbed by the news of Johnny’s passing. The community took advice off Johnny as we looked on him as a master of the sea and he would’ve given that advice pretty freely for the health and safety of others.
“On behalf of Moyle District Council I’d like to pay my respects to the family and offer my condolences to one of the real characters of Rathlin.”
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.”
North Antrim MP, Ian Paisley Jnr, extended his sympathy.
He said: “As MP for North Antrim I wish to extend my sympathy to relatives and friends of Johnny Curry, given his tragic death off the coast of Rathlin Island.
“The circumstances of this very sad occurrence are a warning to us all of the dangers many face in this locality on what is a normal way of travel. There should be a quick investigation into what occurred and anything that can be learnt from such an investigation shared with public.”
Ballycastle councillor Donal Cunningham has paid tribute to Johnny Curry,
Cllr Cunningham said: “Johnny’s death has been a terrible shock for both the Rathlin and Ballycastle communities. Johnny was a well-known boatman and a great character who loved Rathlin and its people.
“Local boatmen have remarked to me on how Johnny was very often the first to help when less experienced boatmen got into trouble on the waters.
“I send my condolences to his daughter Catriona, his family and the Rathlin community which has been left devastated at his passing.”
North Antrim MLA Daithí McKay has been speaking of the tragedy.
Mr McKay said: “This is an absolute tragedy and my thoughts are with his family and the huge amount of friends Mr Curry made over the course of his life. He was a very popular figure, not only in Rathlin and Ballycastle but far beyond. It’s a devastating loss for the islanders and the wider community. Anyone who visited the island was assured a warm and disarming welcome from Mr Curry, he was the best ambassador a community could hope for and he will be sorely missed.”
Ballycastle councillor Cara McShane spoke of her shock at the news.
Cllr McShane said: “Johnny Curry was an absolute rock of the Rathlin community. Nothing was too much bother for him and he happily lent an ear to anyone. This is devastating news. He was an incredibly kind man with a lovely positive way about him, the sort of person who left you feeling better about the world. Everyone will miss him terribly and my heart goes out to his family and his friends.”