FAMILY, friends and workmates have all paid tribute to young Craigavon man Damien Brennan, who died suddenly just before Christmas.
The 24-year-old youth worker has been described by those who knew him as an “inspiration”.
Damien, who lived in Carrigart, died on Wednesday, December 21.
His dad John said his death has left the family heartbroken.
“He was always a happy child,” said Mr Brennan.
“He always looked on the bright side and enjoyed life.”
When he was five-years-old Damien suffered extensive burns to his body, which required him to attend hospital on a regular basis throughout his life.
He was brought to the Shriner’s Children’s Hospital in Boston, a not-for-profit institution, for specialist treatment on a number of occasions in the late 90s.
The former Lismore and St Brendan’s pupil was the first ever Irish person to be treated at the establishment.
Mr Brennan continued: “He was held in great respect when he was in America. Indeed, he became a bit of a celebrity when he was over there.
“He was made an honorary member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and led the St Patrick’s Day parade in Boston one year.
“He was a great inspiration to the other children when he was over there,” added Mr Brennan.
Marie Conway, who worked with Damien at the Brownlow Area Youth Project, said he will be “sorely missed”.
“He came to us when he was 15, after three years of trying to convince him, and he stayed ever since,” said Mrs Conway.
“He had quite a lot of obstacles to overcome throughout his life, but he just kept a smile on his face all the time.
“He had a very strong group of friends around him, who he cared for deeply. We are all gutted at his death.”
Mrs Conway continued: “The loss of Damien to the youth service in the Brownlow area is too enormous to put into words. He has left his family, friends and fellow workers with many happy memories; we will laugh out loud forever thinking of his antics.”
She added: “He was an inspiration to the young people he worked with, he was looked up to by many, and he was a great role model and one of life’s true gentlemen.”
Speaking at the funeral mass in St Anthony’s, parish priest Fr Martin McAlinden said: “Damien died tragically and too young. He was a popular young man with many friends. His sudden death, and his funeral on the eve of Christmas, has left his family and this community stunned. The decorations and tree have come down in his house – the Christmas joy is gone as his family grieve the loss of a beloved son, brother, uncle.
“Today we let Damien go to God – we pray that he is in the presence of divine love this Christmas. We take hope and consolation from our faith, and inspiration from the life Damien lived.
“Damien attended St Brendan’s Primary School and Lismore. We all know that he had much to contend with much in his short life. The horrific burns he suffered when he was only five led to numerous operations here and in Boston.
“He could have been forgiven for feeling sorry for himself, for withdrawing from life. But that was not Damien. He embraced life and embraced others. Staff from Lismore and those he knew in youth work remember an affectionate young man who showed his care and love by means of great big bear hugs.
“When he was 15 years old he came to Brownlow Resource Centre to participate in the youth radio station called Xtreme FM. Damien very quickly became a massive part of the life of the youth centre and later this spread to all three youth centres within Brownlow Area Youth Project. The youth workers in the area have had the privilege of watching Damien grow over the last nine years into a kind, loving, humorous young man who was a gifted youth worker with a big heart. Damien was always the life and soul of the party. He never failed to make others laugh and smile. As a youth worker there is no greater recommendation than to say that the young people loved him.
“One of Damien’s passions was animals – another indication of his caring and loving nature.
“Damien has left his family, friends and fellow workers with many happy memories. Today, take time to think about the good memories you have of Damien and to be thankful for them.”
Fr McAlinden added: “It is sad to see the end of a life which had so much to give and so much potential, a life that was, in so many ways a role model of resilience and living life to the full, despite life’s difficulties.”
Damien was buried in St John’s Cemetery, Lylo, following a requiem mass at St Anthony’s Church on Christmas Eve.
He is survived by parents John and Jean, sister Vicki, her partner Connor, niece Holly and nephew Cathasaigh