TRIBUTES have been paid to a legendary Dromore businessman whose long-standing café in the town enjoyed a special place in the community for almost 40 years.
Gerry McKiernan, pictured, who died on Tuesday, was honoured by a poignant, socially-distanced guard of honour staged by local people outside their homes as his remains made one last journey through the town.
Just last month, the 69-year-old told the UlsterHerald that his decision to step away from the Salt and Pepper, which he had opened in 1983, was “the end of a very long era”.
Speaking yesterday (Wednesday), his daughter, Donna Mullin, said the family was “immensely grateful” for the messages of support they had received since news of her father’s death this week.
“Our father was very sad to leave the Salt and Pepper last month. But, as a family, we will always remember him as a man who just loved the banter and craic in the café,” she said.
“We are so grateful to the people of Dromore for the very many warm tributes to him. One person said it didn’t matter if someone who went into the café had money or not because they always got something to eat.
“It was so poignant to see young people, who might not have known him as well as older ones, standing out in their jerseys sponsored by the Salt and Pepper café.”
Prior to opening the Salt and Pepper in Dromore, Mr McKiernan had worked in cafés across West Tyrone.
He was also employed for a number of years in Omagh Meats.
A keen and talented rally driver, one of his proudest moments was in 1984 when he won his group in the
Donegal Rally in his Mark 2 Ford Escort on the same weekend that his daughter was born.
Mr McKiernan’s funeral will take place in St Mary’s Church, Killyclogher (today) Thursday. His death has caused widespread sadness both in his native parish of Cappagh and in the Dromore area.
Barry Campbell, vice-chairman, of the St Dympna’s GAA club, said Mr McKiernan was a very generous supporter of Gaelic games and community events in the Dromore area.
“Gerry approached the club to sponsor 30 years ago and was always more than generous. When underage teams had played in finals, he was always there with a complimentary meal for them,” Mr Campbell said.
“It was his pleasure to treat the players at all levels. He was very popular as a person, some who was invariably jovial and good-humoured. Gerry always made time for people who came to the Salt and Pepper for a takeaway meal or to sit-in.”
Strathroy community worker, Mickey Kelly, who knew Gerry as a young man, said his family were well-known and respected in the Cappagh parish, where he was born and lived.
“Gerry grew up in Knockmoyle and I always remember playing table tennis with him when we were both young men,” he added.
“The McKiernan family are very well-known within the Cappagh and Strathroy areas. Like Gerry through his work in Dromore, they have always been very supportive of events taking place in the community.”
Local Sinn Féin councillor, Glenn Campbell, described Mr McKiernan as “hugely respected in Dromore and someone who was almost like a ‘quiet chieftain’”.
“Gerry’s Salt and Pepper café was a focal point in Dromore. People would arrange to meet in the cafe or outside it. He was hugely generous to community and voluntary organisations in the locality,” he said.
“There was a palpable sense of loss in Dromore, as news of Gerry’s death emerged. There was also a great sense of respect and gratitude and we are grateful for his contribution to the community.
“We will miss him greatly and will remember his infectious smile. The world is a poorer place without Gerry McKiernan.”
Mr McKiernan, who lived at Drumlegagh Road South, is survived by his partner, Geraldine, daughters Siobhan, Una and Donna and a wide family circle.“We are so grateful to the people of Dromore for the very many warm tributes to him.