Tributes from across Northern Ireland have been paid after the death of Dean Wright, the talented owner of award-winning artisan cheese firm Ballylisk.
r Wright passed away suddenly in Portadown on Saturday morning at the age of 48.
With the historic family farm based in Armagh for five generations, the news of the “highly respected” man’s passing has left the local community in shock, alongside tributes from the wider food industry on the significant mark he made.
Paying tribute to the former rugby player, who represented Ulster at under-age level, Portadown Rugby Club said that they were “greatly saddened” to hear of his death.
“Dean was a barnstorming open side flanker who came through the youth system at the club,” they added. “Unfortunately, Dean’s shoulders couldn’t withstand the ferocity of his tackling and he was forced to retire from the game early when a promising career beckoned.
“A highly respected figure in the food industry right across the island of Ireland, he was the face of Ballylisk of Armagh dairy products.
“The tributes on social media are a testament to his standing amongst his peers in the food community.”
Counting the royal family among their customers, the Ballylisk cheese firm also supplied the world’s top golfers at the 2019 Open in Portrush.
Mealla Campbell, the former Lord Mayor of Armagh paid a heartfelt tribute to Mr Wright online.
“I visited Dean at his factory when I was Lord Mayor and he spoke about his cheese and future plans for the business with such passion,” she wrote.
“He was a real gentleman, so personable and keen to promote his product and his local area.
“[He was] a very inspiring man who will be dearly missed by all within the community. My heart goes out to his family and friends at this very difficult time.”
Other figures within the area also praised Mr Wright for his significant contribution to Armagh and beyond.
Ulster Unionist MLA for Upper Bann Doug Beattie described it as “terrible news”, with councillor Jim Speers adding that it was a “tragedy”.
“Having known Dean, along with his mum and dad and the entire family circle for all my adult life, they are a very hard working and respected family,” he said.
Councillor Kyle Savage, the Deputy Lord Mayor of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon District Council, said he was a “beacon” for the quality of food producers in the area.
“He was passionate about local food and helping our local food industry,” added Mr Savage.
“Dean was never slow in helping others out and his company supplied me with Christmas food hampers which in turn I gave out to local community groups.
“Hardly a week went past that we didn’t have at least a conversation when we spoke about many things, least of all putting the world to rights about farming, local food and opportunities for business.
“Dean was an inspiration to many people and helped many people involved within the local artisan food industry.
“Dean will be sadly missed by his family and by his many friends.”
The success of the Ballylisk firm across the region was also reflected in the outpouring of sympathy from many of the companies they supplied.
Newry coffee company, Grounded Espresso Bars, described him as “extremely passionate”, with Belfast firm Mike’s Fancy Cheese hailing him online as a “huge character” in the Northern Ireland food community.