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Local political giant and proud Markethill man Seamus Mallon has died today aged 83 and many tributes already have been made.

Born in Markethill in 1936, Seamus had a high profile political career as MP for Newry and Armagh from 1986 to 2005, Deputy First Minister from 1998-2001, Senator in Seanad Éireann in 1982, and an incredible 26 years as Deputy leader of the SDLP, from 1979 to 2001.

Before his career in politics Mr Mallon was headmaster of St James' Primary School, Mullaghbrack. A period of turmoil in the 1960's saw him become involved in the civil rights movement leading to him becoming involved in politics and joining the SDLP.

Putting family before politics he quit from public service in 2005 to care for his wife Gertrude who suffered from dementia. Last year he published his memoirs 'A Shared Home Place'

Tributes

Leading tributes President Michael D Higgins said "I am deeply saddened by the passing of Seamus Mallon, former Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, former member of Seanad Éireann, and lifelong civil rights campaigner. His reputation as a politician and community activist of unsurpassed courage, civility and fairness is held by all those who had the privilege of knowing him.

Seamus Mallon.
Seamus Mallon. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

"Few people have influenced the peace process in Northern Ireland more than Seamus Mallon, a formidable opponent and, a tough negotiator in speech and act, but always honest and honourable. He was a man who demonstrated integrity and courage in the face of opposition and threat, playing a vital role in building the peace process.

"He was instrumental in bringing into being a meaningful discourse that heralded a new possibility of civil rights within a shared island.

"Seamus Mallon served with distinction in Westminster, Stormont and in the Oireachtas as a member of Seanad Éireann and his ability to build relationships in support of peace and reconciliation leaves a lasting legacy, not just in the North but across Ireland."

Prime Minister Boris Johnston added "Seamus Mallon made an extraordinary contribution to democracy and peace in Northern Ireland. I want to express my sincere condolences to his daughter Orla, to his family and friends and to the SDLP."

First Minister Arlene Foster also spoke of her sadness “I was saddened to hear of the death of former deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon. He was instrumental in bringing about peace for our people and that contribution should not go unrecognised. My thoughts are with Seamus’s family and all who held him dear. I will keep them in my prayers.”

The deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill added: “Seamus Mallon was a significant political figure who made a huge contribution to the politics of peace and the Good Friday Agreement. His mark on our history is indelible. I send my sympathy to his family, friends and political colleagues who will feel his loss deeply at this very sad time.”

Newry SDLP Councillor Michael Savage spoke of him as "A giant of a man in so many ways. A friend, mentor, leader, and family man. His legacy in Newry and Armagh and across Ireland will never be forgotten. The peace we now all enjoy is a result of his vision, authority and determination. We owe him so much."

Current Newry and Armagh MP, Mickey Brady added “I am saddened to learn of the death of Seamus Mallon, a formidable and highly respected  politician, whose contribution to peace on this island is recognised and appreciated by all. My deepest sympathies to his family, friends and political colleagues”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood spoke of how Ireland had lost one of its most fierce champions for justice, equality and peace. “In the darkest days of conflict, when hope was in short supply, Seamus represented the fierce thirst for justice that ran through the SDLP and through communities that had lost so much to political violence.

“His passion for peace underpinned by truth, justice and reconciliation came from a lifetime as a proud son of Markethill where he was born, grew up and raised his own family. It didn’t matter who you were, where you worshipped or what your politics were, there was always help to be found at Seamus’ hearth."

Singer Tommy Sands remembers Seamus for different reasons "I will remember Seamus for many reasons, as a champion of Justice and peace of course, but also as the barman in the Ship Bar Warrenpoint who launched our very first record in 1967. The other barman at the time was Ken (now Lord) Magennis, a good friend of Seamus"

John and Pat Hume added "History will remember Seamus as one of the great Irish patriots and peacemakers. He was a man of huge strength and courage, who stood with John for many years in the fight for justice, peace and reconciliation on this island." Adding "Men like Seamus Mallon don't come along too often, we should for grateful for his work in our time and cherish his legacy and preserve his values by never giving up on standing up for what is right, standing tall against prejudice and injustice and standing for making Ireland a country of peace and partnership."

Mr Mallon is survived by his daughter Órla and was predeceased by his wife Gertrude in 2016.

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