Last of generation and Leeds United fan for 75 years

Members of the Irwin family with the special 'LEEDS' wreath they provided for Sammy's funeral.
Members of the Irwin family with the special 'LEEDS' wreath they provided for Sammy's funeral.

One of Killicomaine’s best-known characters, Mr Sammy Irwin, has died suddenly after a short spell in hospital.

Sammy (80) was the last of a family of six. His original home was at the famous row of white houses at Princess Way – known as Cullen’s Row – which were demolished to make way for part of the Killicomaine estate.

He was very knowledgeable of the area’s history, recalling that German prisoners-of-war had been held in what was known as ‘Irwin’s Field’ (no relation) and he had watched the building and opening of the main estate.

His final home was in Granville Gardens, and he was the last link with the fourth generation. He is survived by sons Sid and Keith and daughter Pamela, as well as eight grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

Sid recalled that his dad was “Leeds United mad”, and this has been passed through the generations with some cherished family stories. Sammy followed them for 75 of his 80 years, dating back to the days of Portadown-born (and international star) Davy Cochrane.

Sammy’s grandchild William Irwin was a pupil of Millington Primary School, and learned that teacher Stephen Guy was a grand-nephew of Cochrane and pictures were exchanged. Sammy admired other great Leeds stars through the years – the likes of John Charles, Wilbur Cush, Billy Bremner, Johnny Giles and Allan Clarke.

And recently, the fourth generation met Stuart Dallas, when United played Sheffield Wednesday. The NI star gave young Micah Irwin a pair of football boots.

Just this week, Sid and wife Janet were the guests of United in the players’ and VIP enclosure as a mark of respect to Sammy and the generations of Irwin fans. They beat Blackburn Rovers 2-1.

Sammy went to Edenderry Primary School when it was at Carrickblacker Road and Alfie Lynas was the principal. He initially worked at the Canning Factory in Castle Avenue, after which he spent many years “on the bins” for Portadown Borough Council.

He invariably remarked that the binmen nowadays “have it easy” with the new hydraulic system. Men like Sammy had to bodily lift the old metal bins and tip the contents into the lorries.

Although he was a quiet, unassuming man, Sammy really “lit up” as a member of various Country and Western bands over the years, playing at local pubs and clubs. His best-known ensemble was ‘The Night Riders’. He sang vocals, and the instrumentalists were Ivan Cooke and Roy Vogan.

He especially enjoyed singing the music of the two Hanks – Snow and Williams – and he made a Gospel CD for well-known local country fan and cobbler Ivan Abraham – proceeds went to the Hospice Movement.

Sammy was confirmed at Seagoe Parish Church and was a member of the Church Lads’ Brigade in his younger days. His funeral service took place in the church, conducted by the Rector, Rev Canon Terence Cadden.

Burial was at Kernan Cemetery and donations in lieu of flowers are to The Southern Area Hospice, c/o Ian Milne, Funeral Directors, 59 Seagoe Road, Portadown BT63 5HS.