WEST Belfast has lost one of its most popular residents with the passing of Tommy Boyd.
Tommy (79) had been battling dementia for the last six years and died last Thursday evening in the Royal Victoria Hospital, his three sons by his side.
Tommy lived a full life and was well known especially because of his life-long dedication to soccer and later the city's pool leagues.
He was also a born entertainer. When he was a teenager he got a summer job as a Redcoat at Butlin’s in Bognor Regis in England – and they couldn’t have found a more perfect fit.
When he had his own family, he not only took them to Butlin's in Mosney in County Meath every summer, but other families as well. Every year he organised as many as 30 families to head south on the train on holiday, often from war-torn streets. In fact, even today many of his old pals and associates still know him as ‘Mr Butlin’s’!
But it was on the football field that young Tommy shone. The only son of parents Tommy and Teresa Boyd, he was to move in with his granny Cassie O’Neill in the Short Strand and was soon captain of his St Matthew’s school team.
He’d spend weekends watching Glentoran, where he’d be lifted over the turnstiles at The Oval – and the Glens were to remain his favourite local team.
As his playing continued, it wasn’t long before big clubs spotted his talent. Burnley and Arsenal wanted him for trials, but his mother refused to let her young teenage boy leave for England.
Tommy’s father was a merchant seaman, and he helped his 16-year-old son get a job as a docker. But his sporting skills were to come to the fore even in this job – and soon he was organising the Belfast Dockers team, who famously played Liverpool Dockers at Anfield and back home in Celtic Park in 1968.
His football career as a centre half spanned spells with Cromac Albion, Distillery and Crusaders among others, and his hero was Glens great Billy Neill. In later years he travelled with his sons to see Celtic in Glasgow.
His early spells as an entertainer in Butlin’s meant he wasn’t shy about taking the stage during sing-songs in the clubs and pubs back home, where he was always the life and soul of the party. The Dockers Club was his favourite venue for a long time, and he was on the committee of Donegal Celtic for many years, where he was always on hand to offer advice to the first team.
Manfred Mann’s Pretty Flamingo was one of his favourite party pieces, as well as Bobby Darin’s Mack the Knife. He also loved Elvis and The Beatles.
When dementia hit, he’d sing away to the jukebox playing his favourite tunes in St Paul’s club, even at a time when he could no longer speak.
And in the PD, his ever-loyal pals would spend hours talking into his ear about the old days, even though there would rarely be a flicker of recognition on his face. A pint of his treasured Guinness would sit in front of him, untouched.
The young Tommy fell in love with Bridget Roberts from Shanlieve Road in Andersonstown and the married in St Teresa’s on the Glen Road in 1967, heading off to Buncrana on honeymoon. At first they lived in Edenmore Drive with Tommy’s parents before getting a house in Moyard. When the Troubles arrived, they moved to Brook Drive and then to Kerrykeel in 1980. They had four children, Danny, Marie, Tommy and Martin.
Tommy was a great organiser and he soon brought his leadership skills to the city’s many pool leagues. He played for the PD and DC teams before becoming secretary of the Interpool League for 25 years, constantly filing reports for the Andersonstown News. “He was in the paper that much we thought he had shares in it!” one of his old pals said.
It was the sudden death of his only daughter Marie aged just 34 in 2005 that shook Tommy to the core. Within a year of Marie’s death, his beloved wife Bridget died of cancer at the age of 62.
He was never the same after losing the two women in his life in such quick succession. Sons Danny, Tommy and Martin did all they could to rally around and support him, but he missed them terribly. A few years later, the tragic death of his first grandchild, Marie’s son Stephen, at just 20 years of age also hit him hard.
He showed the first signs of dementia in 2016 and was supported and cared for at home by his loving family and brilliant neighbours and friends.
Tommy’s funeral takes place from the family home in Kerrykeel Gardens in Lenadoon on Friday for 11am Requiem Mass at St Oliver Plunkett Church, with cremation afterwards at Roselawn. He is survived by his three sons, eight grandchildren and two great granddaughters, and his three sisters, Kathleen in Australia, Teresa and Evelyn.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.