Like all funerals, that of Philip Duke which took place at St Bartholomew’s Parish Church in Belfast on Monday was tinged with sadness, writes John Flack.
However, within moments of the start of the service, the packed congregation was moved to laughter – and you had the feeling Philip was reacting with his trademark impish grin as he looked down upon us.
The Rev. Kevin Graham remarked that only ‘Dukie’ as he was universally known, could have brought Belfast to a standstill for the occasion, referring to the state of lockdown in the city as ex-hurricane Ophelia made her way to Northern Ireland.
That set the tone for an emotional afternoon for Philip’s friends and family along with the hockey fraternity, from all over Ireland, who were in attendance, including scores from his beloved Belfast Harlequins club.
Iain Kelly, who still plays in goal for Quins first eleven, on behalf of the club, then paid a moving tribute to his dear friend, who died suddenly at the age of just 56.
Here are just some of the extracts from Iain’s address, which struck the perfect tone for what was also a celebration of the life of someone, who was the life and soul of Belfast Harlequins.
“We are now a club in mourning. Grown men and women have been shedding tears as we try to come to terms with the loss of our great friend Philip. Like everyone here today, we cannot comprehend as to why Philip has been taken from us so early…
“We have all lost a true character and friend. But at Harlequins we have lost somebody who was a player for many years, our past President, team captain, umpire and a guy who held the post of match secretary for 25 years – half the time of our entire existence. Philip was the guy who glued the club together – he was our “go-to” man.
“If you needed the time of a match changed, or needed people to umpire or a couple of extra players he sorted it. He had a little black book that would make Donald Trump feel jealous!”
Iain revealed that Dukie, who was a renowned goal-scorer, wasn’t quite so keen on midweek physical training sessions and he became adept at avoiding them when at all possible.
“Philip was mildly asthmatic – a condition that somehow always worsened on Tuesday evenings. If he thought there was likely to be a lot of running involved, the inhaler appeared out of no-where and he disappeared off to recover.”
“Those inhalers he used must have been very effective because by the time the physical training was over and the session had moved on to stick and ball, he had made a full recovery!
“In later years Philip took up umpiring and was well respected by all the teams he umpired as he had amazing empathy with players and spectators alike. In fact, he is the only umpire I have ever seen making a player laugh as he sent him off.
“At Quins we would say he was probably the greatest character ever in Ulster Hockey and we will stand by that claim forever. You only need to read the messages that we have received from throughout the world to show the respect he was given by scores of other clubs. Philip was respected by players from the ages of 15 to 65 and he always had time for them.
“He never had a bad word to say about anybody and nobody had a bad word to say about him. He was a true gentleman, in every sense of the word.
“This is Dukie – of the beaming smile, the gentle laugh and the superb sense of humour. Dukie – the larger than life character, the guy who would give you a big hug if you were down.
“Dukie – our friend, confidante and “go-to” man. We can’t believe he has gone. Dukie, you and that big smile may have left us but you will never be forgotten.”
Belfast Harlequins Club President Roisin Walsh, from the ladies hockey section, then recited a lovely poem specifically dedicated to the memory of Philip.
Towards the end of the service, Rev. Graham, who had spoken with eloquence and good humour in remembering Dukie, then urged the congregation to show their appreciation for his life and everyone rose to their feet amidst sustained applause in a spontaneous gesture of affection and respect for our much-loved friend.
Well known local singer and former Annadale hockey player, Peter Corry, delivered a marvellous rendition of ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ as the service came to an emotional end.
Everyone connected with Ulster and Irish hockey would like to express its sympathy to Philip’s father, Robert, his brother Peter and wife Juanita, his sister Jane, husband Nevin and their children Andrew and Rachel.