The family of a Foreglen man who died while on holiday in New York have raised more than £7,000 for a repatriation fund responsible for bringing their loved one home.
Paschal McFeely, aged 58, died on January 23, just a week into his three-week holiday. He was staying with sons Ronan and Niall when he suffered a heart attack. The father-of-five had been in New York to watch son Niall play with the New York GAA team.
“He’d only been there a week when we got the phone call at 20 to seven in the morning. It was shocking news,” Paschal’s wife, Caroline said. “It was absolutely horrendous. Paschal was always outdoors, with the sleeves rolled up and working, with the greyhounds, so it was a big shock.”
Caroline said the help and support of the Irish community at the time in New York was fantastic, especially towards Niall and Ronan.
“With Niall being involved in the football, the Irish community really rallied around them,” said Caroline.
The family were contacted by The Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust. The Trust fund was set up in memory of Kevin Bell, from Newry, who died in June 2013 in a hit-and-run accident in New York leaving his family in Newry facing a bill of thousands of pounds to bring him home. Thanks to a huge fundraising effort by people in the city these costs were not only met, but exceeded to the tune of £140,000.
This led to the family forming the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust so they could help alleviate the stress and grief of other families in a similar situation. The Trust has helped more than 60 families.
Caroline and her sons - Emmett, Ryan, Damhnaic, Ronan and Niall - were so thankful for the Trust and what they did, they organised a fundraiser to raise money and to help other families who find themselves in the same tragic situation as it can cost families £5,000 to bring someone’s body home from another country.
“They took care of everything, they were amazing,” said Caroline. “It’s hard enough when someone dies suddenly but, when it happens abroad you don’t know where to turn. They did everything, and words will never be able to thank them enough.”
When it came to what to do to raise money for the Trust, the family chose something close to their hearts.
“Paschal wasn’t one for going out a lot but he enjoyed the odd ‘Night at the Races’, so Emmett said we should do that,” explained Caroline.
The fundraiser was held last weekend in Foreglen GAC and, to date, more than £7,000 has been raised with donations from the night still pouring in. Among the items auctioned were GAA jerseys. boxing tickets and golf items.
“The support we had on the night was unreal,” said Caroline.
“We had people from Belfast, all over County Derry there. It was so well supported. Paschal would have loved it. He should have been there, but people were saying ‘he is here’.”
Caroline said she never knew how well her late husband was thought of until recently. She said from the moment people heard of his passing, the house never emptied and the phone never stopped.
“It’s shocking how much I miss him,” she said. “He was my best friend and he was best friend to the five boys too. No matter what they did, he was always there to support them. We are a very close family and every holiday we had was as a family.
“He wore everything on his sleeve and was straight up and down the middle with everything.
“He was held in such high esteem, and I didn’t realise that until his passing but it’s nice to know how well thought of he was. He had a heart of gold.”