Crowds turn out for Higgins funeral

 

The funeral of Alex “Hurricane” Higgins brought central Belfast to a standstill today, as thousands turned out to mourn and celebrate the life of the snooker legend

A tearful Jimmy White carried the coffin of the former snooker world champion from his family home in Belfast as other greats of the game, including Stephen Hendry and Ken Doherty, followed.

The funeral procession was led by a horse drawn carriage as family and friends of the 61-year-old followed in sombre procession.

The cortege left the house in Roden Street in the south of the city to pass through the Sandy Row area, stopping at the street where Higgins grew up, before passing the social housing apartment where he was found dead last month.

A fresh mural to the two-times world champion featured on the wall opposite the scene of his lonely death.

A funeral service at St Anne’s Church of Ireland Cathedral was packed with 400 former players, friends and family, with thousands more outside paying their last respects.

Past and present stars of the game including Stephen Hendry, Ken Doherty, Willie Thorne, Shaun
Murphy and John Virgo attended.

Higgins (61) died last month after a long battle with throat cancer and alcohol. He was a twice world
champion from Northern Ireland who graced the green baize with flair and talent.

The statement from White said: “He was mind-blowing, he did things I’d never seen before, he was The Hurricane, I will miss him to the end.”

Higgins’s daughter Lauren added: “A million times I will cry, if love alone could have saved you, you never would have died.” His sisters Anne and Jean sat at the front of the cathedral along with Lauren and son Jordan.

Ryan Thomas from TV's Coronation Street, Northern Ireland ministers Nelson McCausland and Arlene Foster, Lord Mayor of Belfast Pat Convery and Olympic champion Dame Mary Peters were among dignitaries at the service.

For his daughter Lauren there was just shock, hurt and anger.

“In life I loved you dearly, in death I love you still. In my heart you hold a place that no-one could ever fill,” she said.

“It broke my heart to lose you but you didn’t go alone. For part of me went with you the day God took you home.”

Dean of Belfast Houston McKelvey was assisted during the service by Bishop of Down and
Dromore Harold Miller. Mr McKelvey delivered the eulogy.

“Alex at a very young age encountered two of the greatest temptations possible - fame and fortune.

“He found it difficult to cope with both. He was not the first to find this difficult and he certainly will not be the last,” he said.

He warned against judgmental comments on the life of the at times irascible champion, credited with
creating the modern game but who famously had an explosive temper and whose drinking often attracted negative headlines.

“Many people — informed and ill informed — have commented publicly on Alex, his life and his lifestyle over the past few days,” Mr McKelvey said.

“It has been a media-fest fed by a public which turns, often like a shoal of piranha fish, from one
personality to another.

“Since Alex’s death many have been judgmental despite the fact that there are few Irish families that I know of who don’t have their own ‘character’ to cope with in the family system.

“The only difference being that their character was not quite so famous.” He said a way to honour Alex Higgins’ memory was to donate to the cancer centre at the City Hospital, close to where the player was born.

Taking up the sport at the age of 11, he won the All-Ireland and Northern Ireland amateur championships in 1968.

After turning professional he became the youngest World Championship winner at his first attempt,
beating John Spencer in 1972. The record was eventually beaten when 21-year-old Stephen Hendry
claimed the trophy in 1990. Higgins claimed the title for a second time in 1982.

However he was banned from five tournaments and fined Stg£12,000 in 1986 when he headbutted UK Championship tournament director Paul Hatherell.

In 1990 Higgins was banned for the rest of the season after he punched a tournament director at the
World Championship.

He went through two divorces, from Cara Hasler and Lynn Higgins, and suffered years of ill health linked to heavy smoking. He earned £4 million during his career but was living in sheltered housing at the end.

He competed occasionally but his physical decline from cancer was evident. He was buried at Carnmoney Cemetery on the outskirts of north Belfast.

PA