Luxury bash | 

Loyalist crime boss George Courtney weds ‘gangster’s daughter’ bride in lavish ceremony

But we can reveal there were some pre-marital jitters after cops raided Courtney’s home just a few nights before the big day
Bride and groom with guests

Bride and groom with guests

The hummer

The hummer

Kilmore Country House

Kilmore Country House

The proposal at the Galgorm Hotel and Spa

The proposal at the Galgorm Hotel and Spa

Courtey’s Red Hand Commando tattoo which he covered up when fighting in Dublin

Courtey’s Red Hand Commando tattoo which he covered up when fighting in Dublin

Courtney and bride Ashleigh Holly Matthews

Courtney and bride Ashleigh Holly Matthews

The couple head off in their classic Mustang sports car

The couple head off in their classic Mustang sports car

Steven MooreSunday World

Loyalist crime boss George Courtney tied the knot with his ‘gangster’s daughter’ bride last weekend, we can reveal.

The joyous couple are seen here leaving Gracehill Moravian Church in a classic white Ford Mustang – the bride proudly holding aloft her wedding bouquet in the wind of the convertible.

But we can reveal there were some pre-marital jitters after cops raided Courtney’s home just a few nights before the big day.

The 41-year-old former MMA fighter – known for over a decade in the drug underworld as ‘Ballymena George’ wedded Ashleigh Holly Matthews – daughter of ex-UDA gunman and loan shark Mel Matthews.

The happy couple said “I do” at the Gracehill Moravian Church in Ballymena yesterday and followed up with a lavish wedding reception at the luxury Kilmore Country House, in Glenariffe.

Kilmore Country House

Kilmore Country House

Courtney arrived for the 12.30pm ceremony in the classic sports car and left in the back seat having helped his new wife fit her white wedding dress into the front seat of the compact car.

The rest of the wedding party left for the reception in a stretched white limousine. Courtney wore a suit and waistcoat which sources say he claimed had cost him £2,000 while the bride wore a flowing, backless wedding gown, complete with veil.

Only a small select few close family and friends – around 30 guests in total – attended the church but it’s understood many more were invited to toast the couple’s nuptials at the reception held in a marquee outside the stunning guesthouse.

Guests sipped champagne and were treated to a fine dining experience and the couple even had an ice-cream cart on hand to keep guests cool before the main meal.

The proposal at the Galgorm Hotel and Spa

The proposal at the Galgorm Hotel and Spa

And tonight, they are hosting an exclusive after-party bash for a select number of guests at the luxury Galgorm Spa – the same spot convicted dope dealer Courtney proposed to his then girlfriend at the side of the spa’s outdoor hot-tub.

But the Sunday World can reveal police raided Courtney’s house in the Royal Court area of Gracehill on Tuesday night.

His home – which has had tens of thousands of pounds spent on it – is just a couple of hundred yards from the church where he was married by a minister yesterday.

The search was part of a wider operation and one of Courtney’s close crime allies - whose father was badly injured in a recent stabbing – also had his house raided.

A police spokesperson told the Sunday World: “Searches were carried out at properties within the Ballymena area on Tuesday, 21st June evening.

“A number of electrical items and a quantity of suspected Class B controlled drugs were seized. There are no further details.”

Courtney and bride Ashleigh Holly Matthews

Courtney and bride Ashleigh Holly Matthews

It’s not clear if any of those items seized were seized from Courtney’s property but he once got six years in jail for smuggling £500,000 worth of cannabis and later had property seized as proceeds of crime.

But the dope smuggler didn’t let the raid ruin his special week and on Friday morning he was hands on in getting the church to look his best as he was seen up a ladder washing the windows.

We can reveal Courtney has been attending the Moravian Church in Gracehill for the last three years but has continued to rake in the cash from his life of crime.

Sources say he does a lot of odd jobs around the church.

In recent years we revealed how Courtney teamed up with former north Belfast UDA brigadier Andre Shoukri and another ‘Mr Big’ type from the Ballykeel area of Ballymena who is heavily involved in criminality.

Courtey’s Red Hand Commando tattoo which he covered up when fighting in Dublin

Courtey’s Red Hand Commando tattoo which he covered up when fighting in Dublin

Sources in Ballymena say tensions have been mounting in the bible-belt town since the death of heroin kingpin Noel Johnston.

The 61-year-old plummeted from a fourth-floor balcony as he escaped what he believed was an assassination bid but which was in truth a police raid last October.

Since then a power struggle is continuing to rage for the lucrative drugs profits available in Ballymena and north Antrim.

But George Courtney continues to flash his cash despite working as a so-called builder. Earlier this year we revealed how Courtney was effectively doing snagging jobs on building sites – basically patching up others’ minor faults.

One source in a previous story claimed Bob The Builder was more use than Courtney and afterwards Courtney revelled in his notoriety – posting videos of himself on building sites singing the Bob The Builder theme tune!

Sources say he regularly appears on building sites and takes pictures of himself ‘working’ to post on social media but the reality is he doesn’t stay long.

The couple head off in their classic Mustang sports car

The couple head off in their classic Mustang sports car

Instead his life of crime has seen him build an empire consisting of several properties, luxury cars, a holiday home in Spain and jet skis.

Kilmore Country House is situated in the stunning Glenariffe Glen and was recently renovated to become one of Northern Ireland’s most exclusive wedding venues.

The boutique guesthouse has just six luxury rooms and the couple are believed to be spending their first night of married life in the Kilmore Superior Signature Suite.

According to the hotel, “The suite has a large Jacuzzi with a view of the Glenariffe Glen. The black and gold theme carries throughout the suite into the dressing room and into the bathroom where you can enjoy a power shower in our large double shower.”

Earlier this year we revealed how Courtney had jetted out for a luxury holiday to a ‘seven star’ resort hotel in Dubai with just a select few mates in what is believed to have been his ‘away day’ stag do.

Courtney lapped up the sun at the Gulf Coast city and it’s understood he spent almost a week at the iconic Burj Al Arab hotel – dubbed the only seven-star hotel in the world because of its phenomenal luxury.

It’s believed Courtney was out celebrating his last days of ‘freedom’ with a bunch of pals in preparation for yesterday’s wedding.

While out in Dubai he not only stayed in the best accommodation, he also drank expensive cocktails, visited the best nightclubs and hired dune buggies for adventure rides in the desert.

The hummer

The hummer

Courtney and his fiancée, nail salon boss Ashleigh Holly-Matthews, turned their social media profiles to private after she posted pictures of his hot tub wedding proposal and we “splashed” them across this paper.

According to the Burj Al Arab website even their most basic suite comes complete with 170 square metres, a master bathroom complete with a full-size Jacuzzi and a separate five-head rain shower and comes complete with a “world class butler service”.

Meanwhile The Penthouse nightclub, bar and restaurant is the premier spot to relax in Dubai and has won a string of awards for it’s fine dining and it’s stunning roof-top setting.

Courtney was literally splashing the cash after proposing to his partner beside a hot tub before celebrating with a romantic dip.

Courtney organised and paid for the elaborate engagement party at the luxury Galgorm Resort and Spa in August 2020.

During the secretly planned bash Courtney invited around 30 close family and friends and took over much of the resort.

His bride-to-be is the daughter of notorious loyalist loan shark thug Mel Matthews, who was also in the pictures posted on social media at the time.

Former UDA man Matthews was jailed for 10 years in 1977 for shooting a UDR man during a botched gun robbery in east Belfast.

He’s been running an infamous loan shark business for years and had a fearsome reputation for having bad debtors dealt with severely.

And his daughter is used to the high life. In 2013, her money-lender dad paid £2,000 to get MTV Geordie Shore star Jay to make a personal appearance at her 18th birthday party.

Courtney got six years in prison in 2011 after he and an associate were caught with £500,000 of cannabis.

He faced up to 14 years in prison and an unlimited fine for illegally importing the Class B drugs when he appeared at Newry Crown Court to face a string of drugs charges.

He got nine months concurrent to the six years for possessing the drugs with intent to supply.

Four years ago we revealed how then MMA fighter Courtney had become a ‘shy’ loyalist after he went to the tattoo fixers to get a Red Hand Commando crest on his chest covered up as he was due to fight in Dublin.

His future father-in-law Mel happened to be a leading figure in the Red Hand Commando.

Courtney’s fight motto was tellingly: “Every saint has a past every sinner has a future”.

The baby-faced drug smuggler used to be very close to West Belfast UDA and ran drugs for them for years.

He even ran a legal taxi firm with a senior UDA leader’s wife before he fell out with the UDA chief but he was making so much money selling drugs that he built up a property empire – buying houses in England.

But just like his future father-in-law he was hit with a confiscation order and lost two properties he’d bought in Liverpool.

In 2014 at Antrim Crown Court Courtney admitted possessing criminal property, converting criminal property and making multiple false mortgage applications.

Steven.moore@sundayworld.com


Today's Headlines

More Irish Crime

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices