Willie Cassidy was buried on Monday in Bellaghy
Bellaghy said farewell to one of its great characters and sportsmen on Monday as Willie Cassidy was laid to rest.
Willie, a former principal of Ballynease Primary School, turned 86 last Wednesday and died peacefully in Antrim Hospital on Saturday.
He was the beloved husband of Jean, son of the late Robert and Elizabeth.
Willie was the dear brother of Harry, Kathleen McErlean, Dan-Joe, Patsy, Frankie, Kevin, Brendan, Eilish Doyle and the late Robert, Jim and Annie Scullion.
Willie (third from right) with brothers Dan Joe, Kevin, Brendan, Harry and Frankie at a function in Bellaghy club in 2019
After attending Ballynease PS as a pupil, he moved on to the Rainey Endowed School in Magherafelt where he was an accomplished rugby player and he later played the sport when he moved to Bristol, where he went to university.
Willie then decided to pursue a career in primary teaching and after graduating from De Le Salle College in Manchester, he taught in Coalisland and Braid schools before returning to Ballynease where he was principal until he retired.
“He was a great character,” said Willie's close friend Tommy Diamond, who would have been chatting to him on a daily basis.
During his time in England, he played for a number of GAA clubs, but it was in the blue of his beloved Bellaghy that he made his name.
Willie won multiple senior championships with the Tones, including their first in 1956 and played on their 1968 Ulster winning team in the first year of the competition, retiring shortly after.
“He was a very fast, strong player...he was fearless,” Tommy said of Willie, who played much of his football at wing forward.
In 1969, Willie published a book, Gaelic in Blue and White, about Bellaghy's championship tradition. It was a publication that helped inspire the next generations of footballers.
Bellaghy's Derry championship winning team of 1956, Willie is pictured third from the right in the front row
He served on the club's entertainment committee, coached underage teams and managed Bellaghy to the 1979 senior title.
Willie also played for Derry during the 1950s and was on the panel that won the Ulster title and reached the All-Ireland final in 1958.
Off the pitch, he was a great organiser, with contacts for the managers of all the great showbands of the era. Willie would book halls and order marquees at various venues across Derry and Antrim, with them thronged with people.
Willie had a huge interest in golf and Diamond described him as a 'brave handy partner' and had 'his share' of success.
Willie was a former captain and President of Moyola Park Golf Club
He served for three years as President of Moyola Park Golf Club where he was also Captain in the 1985 season.
Willie was central to bringing star player Seve Ballesteros to play an exhibition game at Moyola in 1980, when the Spaniard was US Masters champion.
“He went over to London to meet Seve's agents and was the man who got him to come over,” Diamond adds.
“Seve called with Willie at his house on his way to Moyola.”
Every Monday for the best part of 15 years, Willie would play as part of his regular four-ball at Moyola.
“It was cut throat,” Tommy laughs. “There was myself, my brother Laurence, Willie and Fr Andy (Dolan).”
Willie and his wife Jean would often go on holiday to the Great Northern in Bundoran.
“Me, Laurence and Fr Andy would call up for the night. They were great times. We'd play a round (of golf) when we arrived and another the next morning.
“Brian McEniff (the owner) always had a band on. He (McEniff) was a great piano player. There was a grand piano, sometimes him and Laurence played and the rest of us sang away until the wee small hours.”
For the second time in just over a week, after the passing of Willie's team-mate Tom Scullion, Bellaghy said farewell to a former school principal.
It was fitting that Fr Andy, now Monsignor, said Willie's requiem mass.
He will be sadly missed by Jean, his family and friends, but Bellaghy is a much richer place for the legacy and memories he leaves behind.
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