Avalanche victim’s mother was former doctor in the town

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THE family of the young doctor killed in an avalanche in the Scottish Highlands have spoken of their devastation at her death.

Dr Una Finnegan, 25, lost her life along with three friends, during a climb at Glencoe last Saturday.

Una’s mother is retired GP, Dr Mary Finnegan (nee Cullen), the eldest of the Cullen family, well-known for their solicitors’ firm in Edward Street, Portadown and who have contributed so much to the life of the town.

Mary and her husband Owen both worked in the Coleraine area - he is a retired consultant from the Causeway Hospital, having worked in Craigavon Area Hospital in his early career, soon after it opened in the early 1970s. He also played rugby for the town club for a short time.

Una’s parents had the heart-breaking duty of having to travel to Scotland early in the week to identify the body of their beloved daughter, one of their family of four and twin sister to Lynn. The others are Kate and Terence.

A statement from the Cullens said, “The family is devastated by the death of Una. She was a talented, wonderful person and we deeply feel the loss of someone we loved so much. The family is grateful for the privacy we are experiencing and need to be left alone to grieve. Una will be sadly missed.”

Una died when the avalanche hit the party of six, climbing on Bidean Nam Bian, a 3,700 high peak at Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands. It swept five of them down 1,000 feet, and she perished along with PhD students Christopher William Bell, 24, and Tom Chesters, 28, as well as Dr Rachel Majumdar, 29, all from the north of England.

A third woman, from Durham, sustained serious head injuries and was rushed to Belford Hospital in nearby Fort William - and later to hospital in Glasgow - and another man escaped with minor head injuries, as he stayed on the upper ridge.

The avalanche struck with powerful, unexpected force and the victims were buried under two metres of snow. Other climbers - not connected with the ill-fated party - raised the alarm, and the Glencoe Mountain Rescue Team, along with police dogs, were alerted, along with a Royal Navy helicopter.

A graduate of Edinburgh, Una was a junior doctor in the Scottish capital city, and took a year out from her studies to gain a Masters Degree in Anthropology, concentrating on illness and health. She moved to Edinburgh from Dalriada School in Ballymoney, where she was described by the vice-principal Nichola Madden as “a very bright capable person, one of our best pupils”. She went with the school to Moldova as part of a humanitarian trip and the twins developed a mutual interest in climbing at the school through the Duke of Edinburgh Award.

Her mother is remembered in Portadown as the eldest of a professional, caring family, while doctors in Craigavon and members of Portadown Rugby Club recall that Owen Finnegan gave his best in everything he did.

Said former rugby club president Fred Watson, “He was typical of players at the time who played the game purely for the love of it, and by all accounts he was a superb doctor. It’s devastating news for the family.”

The Northern Ireland Ombudsman Tom Frawley - who played rugby with Owen Finnegan during his Portadown days - added his sympathy. “Owen and Mary are devoted parents and this has devastated them. The Finnegans have contributed so much to every community where they have lived, and Owen’s work in Craigavon and his contribution to Portadown Rugby Club were immense. We feel so deeply for them.”