Strathfoyle turned out in force this week to salute a true pillar of the local community, the legendary local librarian, Philip McLaughlin, who is about to turn the leaf on a new chapter of his life after over 30 years of public service in the village.
In a fitting epilogue to what has been a remarkable career Mr. McLaughlin was joined by representatives of every age group, gender and communal background, from the wider Strathfoyle and Maydown area, for a retirement bash in the library he has helped establish as the principal community hub in Enagh.
For Philip, serving the community of Strathfoyle, first from the old library in Claragh Crescent and, later, from its current premises on Clonmeen Drive, was a vocation in the truest sense of the word.
“It’s something I’ve always felt. I’ve the best job in the world. It wasn’t a job to me. It was so easy to do and I got so much out of it,” he said.
“It was a sheer pleasure to see people who had passed through here with their pictures in the papers and realise that over the years you could have helped somebody along the way.”
Gus Hastings, Secretary of the Strathfoyle Community Association, remarked: “Philip was very much at the forefront of the library and the way it is now.
“He’s very involved with the schools, the community, the nursery schools, the Tiny Tots. This is really a hub for all the children of Strathfoyle.
“He was an innovator. You could be a librarian and be satisfied with just giving out the books and not moving into the 21st century but that wasn’t him.”
Martin McCartney, Chair of the Maydown Community Association, shared these sentiments: “In all my years of working I never met someone who loved their job as much as Philip. He couldn’t do enough for people.
“He’s going to be missed. What Philip has done for this community? He’s reared a lot of youngsters.
Marie Coyle, of the Enagh Seniors, said: “It’s great to be able to pay tribute to a great man, and a great manager of our library, who has given such great support to our group.
“With the help and support of Philip and the library staff over the years, and Anne, Philip’s wife, we have grown from strength to strength with so, so much support.”
Paul Hughes from the Enagh Youth Forum also paid tribute, stating: “Stratfoyle Library really is the hub of the local community.
“Philip McLaughlin was, and still is, a pillar of this community. From all of us at Enagh Youth Forum we thank you for everything.”
Chris McGarrigle, who is centre manager at the Education Authority’s Strathfoyle Youth Centre next door, said: “Since I’ve been out here he’s always done a great job with the young people in the centre.
“He’ll be missed throughout the year. He used to come in and do the storytelling with our younger age groups and events at Hallowe’en and Christmas.”
The man himself, responding to all these warm words, joked: “It was so easy to do but sometimes it got me into trouble.”
He said that to get things done he often lived by the maxim that it’s sometimes better to do something and apologise later rather than seek permission first. And this approach got things done.
“We had a book launch at 12 o’ clock at night once! One of the Harry Potter books.
“We had a sleepover in the library with the girl guides. Things that never happened in any other library. But that was Strathfoyle.”
One of Strathfoyle Library’s graduates Shauna Healy presented a poem, entitled simply ‘Philip,’ which she had penned for the occasion.
“During my childhood if I wasn’t in school I was in the library and it’s really influenced my path in life and, I’m sure, a lot of other people’s.”
Philip said he remembered Shauna sitting in the library years ago listening to a storyteller from Colorado who he had invited in to read for the local children.
“This storyteller later sent me a beautiful letter and two cassettes,” recalled Philip.
“She said she remembered one young red haired girl sitting in the audience who had taken her heart away and asked if I’d let her have her pick of the cassettes.
“Shauna was that young at the time. Maybe it had an influence on her life growing up and her love of books and poetry and all the rest. Just the wee things that happened.”
In her poetic tribute Shauna acknowledged her mentor’s life work: “Philip, you will be sorely and sadly missed when you walk out those doors today; and there’s so much you have given, words, only our hearts could say.”
Jack Long, a young member of the Enagh Youth Forum, who moved to Strathfoyle from England in 2008, spoke of the lasting influence Philip has had.
Jack said Philip had been a champion for the entire village area.
“I’m not going to lie it was a huge change but one person I remember dearly over those ten years of living in Strathfoyle was Philip.
“He was in my corner from day one.
“And I’m very able to say, not just for me but for everybody, that he was in Strathfoyle’s corner from day one.”