Tributes paid to Banbridge hotelier

THE staff of one of Banbridge’s oldest establishments, the Downshire Arms Hotel in Newry Street, gave one final, silent salute to their former boss on Friday as the funeral cortege of Mr Barry Heslip paused outside the building.

Mr Heslip (78), well known hotelier in the town for over 40 years, passed away last Tuesday in Craigavon Area Hospital following complications from illness.

The funeral took place privately from his home at Katesbridge Road, Ballyward, for a service in Loughbrickland Presbyterian Church which was filled to capacity with family members, friends, neighbours and customers of the hotel where Mr Heslip had been a friendly, familiar face since taking over the reins in 1971.

Members of the Downshire Arms Golfing Society acted as pallbearers at the funeral and the service included many moving and amusing anecdotes from those who knew him best.

Speaking to the Leader yesterday (Monday), Mr Heslip’s son Nigel recalled a “quiet and shy” man whose love of carpentry was evident throughout the hotel due to his passion for personally restoring tables and chairs.

“My father loved fixing things - it was a real labour of love for him and even when he retired from the business in 1998, he would still pop in and see if anything needed done,” said Nigel. “He could turn his hand to anything like that. He was very much ‘hands-on’ and he liked dropping in for a bit of craic with staff and customers, having a meal and generally keeping an eye on things.”

Dedicated to the hotel he took over from his uncle, Mr Hugh Chambers, Mr Heslip quickly embraced the challenges of the hospitality industry and he and his wife Amy lived in the Downshire Arms for a while before seting up home in Closkelt 14 years ago.

The son of an army major father and doctor mother, Mr Heslip had worked in a management position at Down Shoes Factory after leaving education - he was among the first pupils to attend the new Banbridge Academy - but found his real vocation as a ‘people person’ at the helm of a busy hotel.

At the inaugural Banbridge Leader Business Awards in 2010, that dedication was rewarded when Mr Heslip was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award - which last year was won by his old Banbridge Academy fellow pupil, Mr Jim Bell, who had the sad duty of organising his friend’s funeral.

Mr Heslip is survived by his wife Amy, sons Nigel and James; daughter-in-law Karen and grandsons Ethan (8) and Issac (7).

The service was taken by the Rev Patricia McBride, with readings from Nigel Heslip and his wife, Karen. Burial was in the adjoining church cemetery and donations in lieu of flowers are being sent to the Diabetic Association care of William Bell and Co., funeral directors, 23 Kenlis Street, Banbridge.