The Rev David McBeth has paid tribute to the late Ernie Hamilton, whom he described as “a man who lived a good life”.
In his eulogy at Monday’s funeral service for Mr Hamilton - a leading former politician and a long-serving member of the Loyal Orders, he said: “Through our tears we can thank God for a life faithfully and generously lived.
“We shall all miss Ernie, especially his wife Mary, and his children Miriam, Eleanor and Heather. But today we shouldn’t just reflect on how much we are going to miss Ernie, but we should also celebrate a man who lived a good life. He was a man who was loyal devoted to his family loyal to his friends, had a sincere faith in God and was very popular in the local community.”
Born in 1932, Ernie grew up at Castlewarren, Donemana. Ernie was one of 13 children.
He met wife Mary in July 1957 at an Orange Service in Strabane and “he was truly smitten!” said Rev McBeth.
They married in August 1964 and he started married life in Kildoag farming and working hard with Mary at his side.
Rev McBeth added: “After a few years of marriage Mrs Isa Knobbs was going into hospital and asked Ernie to look after the bar until she was better. That smit him with the bar work and the craic. Many a late night was spent in Knobbs bar and Mary had a long wait until 3 or 4 in the morning for him to come home. ..
“Ernie and Mary bought The Beaufort in 1971 and moved to Claudy.
“Sadly in July 1972, three car bombs exploded in Claudy and he lost many good friends. A few short months later in December 1972, he lost his youngest brother and best man at his wedding, Ellis, who was shot by the IRA.
“As the Hotel was being rebuilt, there was many a good night held in The Hut on the tennis court...Indeed I am sure that many here today have their own fond memories of the Hotel. I have my own...
“Mary and Ernie have so many good friends, as is reflected here today from different traditions, culture and backgrounds.
“He will be sadly missed by many for his sense of fun, notoriously cantankerous moments, craic, straight talking and friendship.
“‘Gratchi’ was a nickname he was fondly known by -the full origins of this nickname are not entirely clear but it was earned when he travelled to Scotland for a pipe band contest with Tullintrain band. We can only guess that some Italian must have said thank you to him but wouldn’t you have just loved to have been there to see that conversation and indeed to hear Ernie’s response.
“He served on council for many years including a year as deputy mayor of Londonderry.
“With Mary’s unwavering support and in the latter years with her alongside him. When he retired from council, he became a political advisor and secretary to Mary from his recliner chair!
“He was a very proud member of the loyal orders and was dedicated to them all.
“He very seldom missed a meeting or parade.”
Rev McBeth stressed the close bond between Ernie and his beloved wife.
He told mourners: “He was supported in every walk of life by Mary who’s lifelong motto was ‘Stand by your man’ – you rarely would have seen one without the other.”
He also highlighted Ernie’s dedication to the loyal orders.
“Ernie joined the Orange on 7th September 1950 at the age of 18; Apprentice Boys and Royal Black Preceptory in 1964 and Freemasons in 1965.
“Ernie’s Saturdays in the summer time were spent following Donemana Cricket Club to all corners of the North West and when he no longer was able to drive,
“Mary patiently drove him – even though she was bored to tears but as long as he was happy, that what all that mattered to her.
“Ernie had many passions in life but none more than his family.
“He absolutely adored his wife of 54 years Mary, three daughters, Miriam, Eleanor and Heather and welcomed the addition to the family of his three sons in law, William, Wesley and Robert.
“He was delighted with the arrival of his six granddaughters, Annie, Victoria, Sophie, Charlotte, Jessica and Emily. To them he was their papa and they worshipped him.
“He was always eager to turn over the news to let them watch their favourite cartoons.”
Rev McBeth continued: “Mary and the girls have asked me to express their sincere thanks to all of those who called to the house to the wake for their care and support and also to Donemana Cricket Club for their respectful minutes silence in memory of Ernie at yesterday’s match.
“When you look at the large number of friends who are gathered here today it is a fitting tribute to a man who enjoyed his life and lived it to the full.”