Hundreds attend the Memorial Mass for the much loved photographer Seamus Loughrey

HIS favourite photograph and camera adorned the altar as hundreds of mourners paid their last respects to local man Seamus Loughrey in Portstewart.

The Star of the Sea Church was full to capacity on Thursday morning for his Memorial Mass.

People from all walks of life - young and old - were there to say their own goodbyes to Seamus.

Some had travelled long distances, others had grown up alongside Seamus in his native Portstewart and knew him all his life, but everyone felt the same - we have lost a very special person and a dear friend.

Seamus worked for many years as a freelance press photographer, covering many community and civic events. He was Coleraine Borough Council's photographer at hundreds of different occasions.

He will be remembered for many things, not least his warm humour, dry wit and unflappable professionalism. He was known as "Uncle" among the other photographers because he always had a quiet, consoling piece of advice to offer or some kernel of wisdom.

He was one of those rare people who lit up a room when he walked in with his humour. Everyone was always glad when Seamus arrived because he was always great fun to be around.

Battling cancer for several months, Seamus passed away at his brother's Strand Road home, just a few doors away from his own home, last Tuesday morning.

At the Memorial Mass on Thursday, his camera and favourite photograph, a picture he had taken of the famous trees at Stranocum, were brought to the altar at the Star of the Sea Church.

Members of his large family sat a few yards away and heard parish priest Fr Austin McGirr, pay a warm tribute to the man who had touched so many people's lives in the area.

Fr McGirr said: "This day last week we celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation here. Last Sunday we had our First Communions.

"Both these events would have been attended by Seamus Loughrey, taking a group photograph at the end of the ceremony.

"One thing I noticed about Seamus was he never said 'smile please'. He was always ready with a fresh witty quip, such as 'only a mother could love yis' which would make the assembled subjects break into laughter.

Then he got his photograph. Faced with an all-male group of Coleraine Borough councillors, he asked, 'which one of you is the bride?'.

"He had a way with people which broke down pomposity and frostiness, built bridges and made friends out of strangers."

Fr McGirr said that despite his light-heartedness Seamus was always the ultimate professional.

"He was utterly dependable in his appointments. I remember booking him to show up after a Chrismas midnight Mass for a special one-of photograph of the parish choir. I apologised for wanting him to be there at 1.00am on a Christmas morning. "But Seamus said it was no problem and he was there on the dot."

Fr McGirr told the mourners that Seamus had chosen to face his illness privately and with dignity.

He said: "Just a few weeks before Christmas he became ill and he had to hand over his appointments to willing helpers. But being a patient didn't come easy.

"He was always the one who helped, and now he had to be helped. He was the one with responsibilities and commitments, the competent professional photographer. Now he had to wait while other professionals took care of him.

"He wasn't comfortable with taking sympathy and only received visits from his family. But he did receive Jesus in the Sacrament of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of the Sick. His faith was deeply behind his attitudes and his actions.

"Just as Seamus made everyone feel at home, so we pray that Our Lord will make him at home in Our Father's house and reward him for his goodness."

On behalf of the Loughery family, Fr McGirr thanked all those who had offered their support and respected Seamus's wish for privacy. He also thanked all the hospital staff and nurses who had comforted and assisted Seamus during his illness.

He thanked organist Terry Cloughley who had organised the music for the service, the choir and choirmaster John Donnelly and soloist Megan McGonigle.

Following the service, Seamus was laid to rest at Agherton Cemetery.

He is survived by sisters Kathleen, Alice, Meava, Noreen, Patricia, Angela, Evelyn and Bernadette and brothers Willie, Brendan, Bernard and Dominic.