Tributes paid to former Portaferry man who touched many

Tributes paid to former Portaferry man who touched many

TRIBUTES have been paid to former Portaferry man, Joe Breen OBE, who died on Monday after a short illness.

Mr Breen was a member of many organisations committed to saving lives including the RNLI, the Coastguard and the Community Rescue Service (CRS) of which he was a founder member.

He is also remembered for his invaluable work in marine conservation and has been described as ‘an extremely committed champion for nature’ who had ‘a deep love and passion for the sea’.

In the 2023 New Years Honours list, he received an OBE for services to marine science and to environmental protection.

Mr Breen graduated from Queen’s University, Belfast with an honours degree in zoology. For three years he worked for the Ulster Museum as a diver/scientist, then for the following three years he was deputy manager of the Northern Ireland Aquarium, now known as Exploris, based in Portaferry.

He then moved on to join a marine consultancy firm before joining the Northern Ireland Civil Service where Mr Breen headed up teams including one which was set up to investigate the horse mussel beds on Strangford Lough.

Mr Breen was a former helmsman at Portaferry RNLI and a former member of Ballycastle Coastguard Rescue Team. His interests included diving, underwater photography and powerboating.

When he was in Ballycastle he became a founding member of the Community Rescue Service (CRS) whose Regional Commander, Sean McGarry, paid tribute to a man ‘who has stood by me and behind me as long as I have known him’.

Mr McGarry said his death came ‘after five weeks of incredible bravery and being an example to all’.

“Joe was one of our family and we have suffered a great loss,” he continued. “I know that so many of you had met Joe and will be upset by his death but his wishes were for CRS to grow and grow and we won’t disappoint him”.

Mr Breen served as a board member for Ulster Wildlife who said he brought a ‘wealth of marine experience’ to his role as a member of their board. “He was an extremely committed champion for nature and his loss will be felt by us all,” they added.

Michael Cecil, chair of Rathlin Development and Community Association, posted his ‘deep sadness at the untimely passing of a good friend’ who he had known almost 40 years.

“Joe was collecting sea life for Exploris in Portaferry and we were supplying conger eels caught in lobster pots around Rathlin”, he wrote. “My first memory of Joe was him trying to catch a particularly aggressive eel that was hiding under his transit van on Ballycastle pier”.

Mr Cecil continued: “Joe had a deep love and passion for the sea and he carried that with him in the job he loved with DOE/DAERA – he was fundamental in protecting the waters and seabed around the island whilst always maintaining good relationships with those of us who live and work on those waters”.

Mr Breen’s funeral service will take place tomorrow (Friday) at 1pm at Holy Trinity Church, Ballycastle. It will be broadcast at https://churchmedia.tv/holy-trinity