Shock at ex-minister’s death

Rev Austin Allan, former minister of Tandragee Free Presbyterian Church, was found dead on Friday
Rev Austin Allan, former minister of Tandragee Free Presbyterian Church, was found dead on Friday

There has been shock at the sudden death at his Tandragee home of a long-serving Free Presbyterian minister, who has been described as “one of nature’s gentlemen”.

Retired minister Rev Austin Allan, believed to be aged 76, had headed one of the denomination’s biggest congregations.

It is understood that his body was discovered in the garden of his Tandragee home at around 4pm on Friday, and that he had taken his own life.

Police attended the property, and said the death is not being treated as suspicious.

Rev Allan was said to have been heartbroken in the aftermath of his wife’s death some years ago.

Some members of Tandragee Free Presbyterian Church, where he had last ministered, had been told after Sunday’s service that it was suicide.

Asked his reaction to the news, Tandragee-based independent unionist councillor Paul Berry said: “It has come as a real shock to ourselves as personal friends.

“He was a man of great compassion, very gracious, and just a true Christian to everybody. And he’ll be greatly missed by so many people.”

Rev David McIlveen, himself a retired Free Presbyterian minister, said Rev Allan had been due to preach at Sandown church in east Belfast two weeks ago, but had pulled out because he was unwell. He did not know the cause of death when he spoke to the News Letter yesterday.

The pair had trained together, and Rev McIlveen preached at his ordination service when he became minister of Whiteabbey Free Presbyterian Church in 1973.

A few years ago, the pair had been together in Kenya where they celebrated the 40th anniversary of his ordination.

He had taken up the post as minister of Tandragee roughly 20 years ago.

Up to 250 worshippers are estimated to be part of the church. He stepped down several years ago.

In retirement he continued to be active within the church, serving on its board of mission and helping to organise cover in vacant churches.

Rev Allan had also paid visits to Rev Ian Paisley during his illness – something which was “deeply appreciated by the family”, said Rev McIlveen.

He had no children, and his wife Elsie had died roughly four years ago.

Rev McIlveen said that her death “broke his heart in a very overt way”.

“It was something I think he found very difficult to cope with.”

He believes Rev Allan was aged 76, and described him as having been “one of nature’s gentlemen”.

His funeral is at 2pm tomorrow at Tandragee Free Presbyterian Church and is understood to be open to all.

He is to be buried in the adjoining churchyard.

Help is available for anyone who may be having suicidal thoughts.

The Samaritans’ telephone helpline can be reached around the clock by calling 08457 909090. Aware Defeat Depression runs a helpline which is open from 9am to 1pm Monday to Friday (0845 120 29 61). Lifeline offers help for those who are in distress or despair, and is available 24 hours a day (0808 808 8000).