Principal was a man of music

Ronnie Reilly.
Ronnie Reilly.

One of the area’s best-loved former educationalists has passed. Ronnie Reilly, who was principal of Cope Primary School in Loughgall, had been in ill health for some time, and died in hospital as the result of a stroke.

He was an icon in the village, respected by, and devoted to, Loughgall, his special talents being in music and his yeoman service to St Luke’s Parish Church.

He is survived by his wife Pat, who was not only his life’s partner, but also his “right hand” at the Cope, which was initially a two-teacher school, with Ronnie at the helm and Pat as his staff!

As well as Pat, he is survived by his son Paul, daughters Ruth Topley and Claire Henry, sons-in-law Paul and Alan and seven grandchildren – Rachel, Rebecca, James, Judy, Joseph, Edith and Miriam.

Ronnie and Pat was married on Boxing Day 1955 in St Mary Magdalene Church at Donegall Pass, Belfast, and last year celebrated their Diamond Jubilee when they received a message from the Queen

Ronnie was born in November 1932 in the Donegall Road area of Belfast, his father being a shipyard worker and his mother a weaver in the linen trade – they were a Church of Ireland family, and he was a keen member of the Boys’ Brigade.

His early life was marked by the notorious blitz in Belfast and he remembers being taken up the Cave Hill to shelter in the caves to avoid the Nazi bombs.

Ronnie was educated at Royal Belfast Academical Institution (Inst) and Stranmillis Teachers’ Training College where he was a member of the Students Representative Council and won the Mahon Prize as the top male student – it was later through teaching that he met his future wife Pat.

He started his teaching career at Lambeg, then moved to Portadown and Edenderry Primary Scholl and then to Cope where he spent the 30 happiest years of his professional life. In his earlier teaching days, he would cycle down to the village where they loved to play tennis and he stayed in the Callan Lodge Youth Hostel.

They ran a wonderful, friendly school with fewer than 50 on the roll. But as the numbers grew, a third teacher was appointed. And when the new Cope was built in 1972, they were joined with Ternagreevagh.

Music and literature figured highly on the curriculum, including traditional and classical music, and Ronnie loved to read the works of authors like CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien to his young charges. He also led them to many prizes in Portadown Music Festival.

He was steeped in music, learning to pay the trumpet early in life. His tutor was the same man who set James Galway on the road to fame, and Ronnie was so proud that he met The Man with the Golden Flute on one occasion. He played the trumpet in the County Armagh Concert Band under the baton of Ronnie Bothwell.

He was also a talented singer, having been a member of the former Richhill Male Voice Choir, of the church choir, of the Lowry Singers in Armagh, and a regular listener/viewer of BBC’s ’Songs of Praise’.

He gave long and valuable service to St Luke’s Parish Church in Loughgall, including as a choir member for many years, as superintendent of the Sunday School for 13 years and as a member of the Select Vestry, from 1960, where he worked alongside four different rectors.

In 1963, he was elected as secretary to the Select Vestry - and remained in that post until 1998. Ronnie was also the driving force behind the Antiques Fair, which for many years was an annual event in parish life. And in 1995, as the longest-serving vestry member, it was he who switched on the brand new St Luke’s floodlighting.

The church was packed to capacity for the funeral service, which was conducted by the Rector, Rev Paul McAdam, assisted by former Rector, Canon Ian Ellis. Burial was in the adjoining churchyard.