Young man who excelled in studies and lived for family

The late Niall McCann.
The late Niall McCann.

NIALL McCann was a young man who loved his family and always had a smile on his face when they were around.

The 25-year-old passed away on March 27, having made the most of the last two years since he was diagnosed with a rare illness.

Niall was the eldest of five children, born to Gerald and Elizabeth McCann.

He went to St Joseph’s and St Peter’s Primary School (now St Francis’) before moving on to St Paul’s Junior High.

Having attended St Michael’s Grammar School, Niall left with four As at A-Level in Economics, ICT, Chemistry and Biology. As a schoolboy Niall showed promise as a GAA player in the ranks of the Wolfe Tones.

At Queen’s University Niall studied Pharmacy and after graduating with a Masters degree he started his pre-reg year, working at Legahory Health Centre.

Niall graduated from university in June 2010 and the following February he was diagnosed with soft tissue sarcoma, a rare form of cancer that develops from cells in the body’s soft, supporting tissues. Given its rarity Niall’s condition took a month to diagnose.

From the outset Niall didn’t want to dwell on the implications of the disease, instead he wanted to focus on living life to the full.

Having been given a year to live, Niall enjoyed just over two years with his family, girlfriend and friends before he said goodbye.

In that space of time Niall had four trips to Old Trafford to watch his beloved Manchester United. One of the trips, in October 2011 was organised by the Willow Foundation, set up by former Arsenal goalkeeper Bob Wilson in memory of his daughter to provide special days for 16 to 40-year-olds.

During the visit Niall and his girlfriend Natalie got a tour of the ground and posed for pictures in the Manchester United trophy room.

The Lurgan man made the most of any time he was feeling well, taking Natalie and his family on holidays and treated them to the best rooms and meals in the nicest restaurants.

Waringstown girl Natalie, who was Niall’s girlfriend for seven years, said: “Niall was so generous - to me, to his family and to everyone he met.”

Niall was a lover of music, who taught himself to play both the acoustic and electric guitar. He also taught himself to paint in the two years since his diagnosis.

His mother Elizabeth said: “He found oil painting very relaxing.

“If he put his mind to something he always gave it a good shot. He had great patience and a great desire to learn.”

Niall attended the Cancer Centre at the City Hospital. His family said the treatment he received was second to none and offered their sincerest thanks to the staff there.

They would also like thank the staff of Southern Area Hospice where he received care until he passed away.

In July Niall became godfather to his cousin Isla Dolan.

“It was a role he took very seriously,” said his father Gerald.

“We have a very big, close family. Niall loved being around his family.”

Natalie explained: “When Isla and the other children came round to visit, even if Niall was in bed recovering he’d get straight up to see them. He always had a smile on his face when he was around family.”

She added: “He made friends very easily. He touched the people he met.”

The attendance at Niall’s funeral was testament to his affable nature. Over 800 people turned up at the service at St Paul’s Church.

They included school friends from St Michael’s, friends from university who had come over from England, even workmates from Debenhams where he had worked part-time for a short period and staff from the City Hospital where Niall underwent treatment.

Gerald said: “We’ve taken a lot of comfort for all the people who have paid their respects.

“On the day of his funeral there was a big crowd who walked with us from the house to the chapel. There was a big crowd waiting outside the chapel and lots of people already inside.

“It was overwhelming.”

Niall was buried in St Patrick’s Cemetery, Derrymacash on Saturday, March 30.

He will be dearly missed by his loving family, not least his mother Elizabeth, father Gerald, sisters Lisa (22), Aileen (17) and Erin (14) and his brother Conor (21).

His girlfriend Natalie said she was very lucky to have met Niall and will never forget him.