Principal killed after falling tree struck his car was ‘a giant in his prime’

A primary school principal tragically killed after a falling tree struck his car during stormy weather was today described as “a giant in his prime”.

Francis Lagan, understood to be in his 40s, was head teacher at St Mary’s Primary School in Maghera, Co Londonderry.

His car was hit by the tree while travelling on the Dublin Road near Antrim, as Storm Arwen hit Northern Ireland with force on Friday.

On a statement on the school website, St Mary’s vice-principal Martina Bradley said: “It is with great pain and sadness this evening that I have to inform you of the untimely death of our much loved principal Mr Lagan. May his gentle soul rest in peace.”

Education Minister Michelle McIlveen said he was a “dedicated” head teacher.

She said: “I want to express my deepest sympathy to the family and friends of Francis Lagan following his tragic death.

“I was privileged to visit his wonderful school. He was a dedicated and passionate principal and will be greatly missed.”

St Patrick’s College in Maghera, where Mr Lagan was a pupil, said: “Education in South Derry has lost a giant in his prime.”

Local parish priest Fr Paddy Doherty knew Mr Lagan well from his work at St Mary’s. He said the news has “stunned the community”.

“He had a great couple of years as principal and had great promise and put in a great amount of work,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.

“It is a great loss to the parish and community and we are all stunned by the death. It is a shock — an absolutely terrible evening.

“He was very well known and did a lot of work. He was just a good principal for the school and very much part of the wider community as well.”

Fr Doherty said it was the second tragedy to hit the family in recent weeks.

He added: “I spoke to his wife this evening and his father. His mother only died eight weeks ago so it is an incredibly hard time for the family.

“It will be very hard in the school come Monday. The school and parish staff already have been in touch to put in place support in the school.”

SDLP Mid Ulster MLA Patsy McGlone extended his sympathy to Mr Lagan’s family. “They are well known and respected in the Maghera and wider south Derry area,” he said.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire family at this time. It will affect the wider community, the pupils and the teaching staff and it has a wide ripple effect right around the town of Maghera.

“It’s very sad indeed. It is so sad for everyone concerned.”

DUP councillor Paul McLean, the chair of Mid-Ulster council, said: “I had the pleasure of visiting St Mary’s recently and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Francis, a gentleman, a personable, dedicated, talented and popular head teacher. He will be sorely missed.”

Declan Kearney, a Sinn Fein MLA for South Antrim, said: “Francis Lagan was a highly respected South Derry school principal, who made an immense contribution to the community which he served.

“Francis was a renowned Maghera educationalist and civic leader.”

South Antrim DUP MLA Pam Cameron described it as an “awful tragedy so close to home”.

The PSNI said: “Police can confirm that a man has died after the car he was driving was struck by a falling tree on the Dublin Road in Antrim on Friday.”

Winds battered large parts of Northern Ireland on Black Friday with shoppers braving the storm.

Ferries were cancelled and some roads were blocked as a result of the gusts and heavy rain.

Power outages also affected locations across Northern Ireland.

In Larne, more than 2,400 homes were left without electricity for several hours, according to NIE.

The winds also brought a blanket of ‘sea foam’ to Portstewart, with ice and snow expected to be a feature in some areas into the late morning.

All of P&O Ferries’ sailings between Larne and Cairnryan were cancelled as a result of stormy seas, with an update from Stenaline expected in the morning.

Ferry sailings between Ballycastle and Rathlin Island were also affected.

A Met Office yellow warning remains in place until 6pm on Saturday evening. Gusts will reach 55 to 65mph in many coastal areas and the yellow weather warning means that “injuries and danger to life from flying debris are possible”.

In England, Friday night’s rugby union Premiership game between Newcastle Falcons and Worcester Warriors was postponed until Saturday evening due to safety concerns.

In North Wales, ITV were forced to pre-record Friday night’s episode of I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here! amid concerns, including that poor weather would meddle with the programme’s broadcast around Gwrych Castle.

The Met Office issued the rare red warning for wind from 3pm on Friday to 2am on Saturday as Storm Arwen arrived.

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