Family man, sports fan and key figure in NI construction trade

Harry Turkington.
Harry Turkington.

Joseph Henry Turkington (Harry) died peacefully on January 18 at the age of 96.

He was born on June 2, 1918 in Charles Street as the oldest of five children – the late Bertie and surviving sister Nellie and brothers Roy and Rodney.

The family’s memories of him are priceless - with many lives touched by his stories, sayings and actions, a man of character and a gentleman who never changed.

Harry lived his first five years with his aunt Mary Jane in Charles Street, with his first two years of school at Epworth Hall.

He earned a diploma in ‘Woodwork, Building Construction’ at Gilford Technical School.

Before the war, he worked for about nine or 10 months in Gateshead “and as soon as the doodlebugs hit London I was moved to London for about four years”.

He then returned home to marry Elizabeth, whom he had met earlier at Clare Sunday School. They were married in 1946 at Tullylish Parish Church.

On the evening of their marriage, they boarded the Heysham Ferry and moved to London for a short time then returned to live in West Street.

In 1949, they built the family home at Oakleigh Park.

Harry and Elizabeth were married for 67 years until Elizabeth’s death just 18 months ago. He missed her deeply and typically visited her grave three or four times each week.

In the early 1950s, Harry established a small building contractor business along with Sammy Bullick (known as ‘Turkington & Bullick’).

The partnership dissolved after about 13 years and Harry continued alone, working long and hard to build the family business.

He built a number of houses in the area - especially around Richhill and Hamiltonsbawn - and larger projects included Tandragee Public Library and Edenderry church halls. This fledgling company formed the basis of what would become one of the major players in the Northern Ireland construction business.

Harry loved sports, was a lifelong supporter of Portadown Football Club and most recently at Shamrock Park in October. Grandson Gary pushed him there in his wheelchair.

He was also a keen follower of motorbike road racing and, on at least two occasions, went to Macau with Phillip McCallen and to Daytona in Florida. For races closer to home, Harry would go off for the day with nothing but a couple of pounds in one pocket and a pint bottle of milk in the other.

And, of course, he was at a number of British touring car races, including Brands Hatch to watch grandson Colin win the championship in 2009.

Harry didn’t always follow protocol. British touring cars are highly-engineered precision pieces of equipment - most people are not allowed near them and you certainly don’t touch them. You can imagine the reaction when Harry was seen tying his shoelace with his foot up on the front bumper of Colin’s MG.

Harry liked to travel and took the family to Switzerland in 1964. He had a fairly old Austin Somerset, British Army tent complete with camouflage, couple of cartons of Ambrosia Creamed Rice and Corned Beef (bought for sixpence a tin because they were dinged!) and a few other necessities.

We were so laden that Elizabeth had to hold a carton of creamed rice on her lap. Although we thought we would never reach Belfast, we did in fact make it the whole way down England, across France and Switzerland to Interlaken and Geneva – and we made it home.

That trip was so memorable we are still talking about it 51 years later. Harry and Elizabeth also had holidays in many parts of Europe and they visited Canada 22 times. For his 80th birthday, Harry had a special two-day trip on the Concorde from London to Monte Carlo to watch the Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix.

Harry loved his daily visits to the factory on Mahon Road. He especially enjoyed chatting with the secretarial staff and with the concrete workers as he watched them pour and form concrete products.

He had a trademark test of how well anything was constructed, he would stand back, close one eye and check that the structure was plumb. This would typically be followed by a kick with his right foot and a judgement of “now there’s a good job” or “what sort of man would do a job like that?” or “I wouldn’t have built it that way”.

On a visit to the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem in 1992, Harry eyed it, gave it his trademark kick and commented “that wall is not straight, I wouldn’t have built it that way”. I’m sure its builder, King Herod, would not have been impressed.

Harry worked hard and he would tell you that he never retired. Indeed, he opened the post for the factory and signed cheques until just three weeks ago.

A broken hip led to the need for increasing levels of care. His carers grew to love him and went beyond all expectation, likewise, the nursing staff on 1 South at Craigavon Area Hospital.

Harry is survived by sons Jeffrey, Roy and Trevor; daughters-in-law Evelyn and Mavis; five grandchildren; five great-grandsons (two in Canada) and four great-granddaughters (three in Canada).

He is interred in Newmills Presbyterian Church burial ground.