A city stands still to mourn a peacemaker - and a great, humble man
Published 12/08/2016 | 02:30
'It's the closest you'd get to the death of a relative for the people of Derry," explained Richard Moore, the renowned charity worker blinded by a rubber bullet as a 10-year-old child on Bloody Sunday.
This was clear by the tears streaming down the faces of men and women in the congregation as the coffin was carried down the central aisle and by the spontaneous round of applause that accompanied it, echoing with great warmth and passion around the walls of St Eugene's Cathedral.
It almost made the hairs stand at the back of the neck so piercing was the sense of their gratitude to Bishop Edward Daly for all he did for them that terrible day and in the many years since. And so immense was their sorrow at his loss and for the hardships, the injustice and the suffering endured in their city for so long.
It was thought that the iconic white handkerchief waved frantically by the then-Father Daly on Bloody Sunday as he escorted a dying 17-year-old boy through the chaos, might be carried to the altar as a special gift.
But it remains a special relic at the Bogside museum, for fear it might fall apart. Though a close personal friend of Bishop Edward Daly, Richard pointed out that everybody in the city felt they were close to this man of such "extraordinary ordinariness" that he could be often met doing his shopping down at the local supermarket.
And he said that as a humble man, the Bishop would have been "shocked" by the turnout for his funeral - which saw the cathedral packed to standing room an hour before it even began.
The families of Bloody Sunday have lost "a real anchor" and focal point, said Richard, who was himself described by the Dalai Lama as "an inspiration" because of his work for children caught in crossfire.
"There will be an awful void in their lives. It's the closest you'd get to the death of a relative for the people of Derry," he said.
As a poignant link to the events of that terrible day, the Bishop was buried in vestments personally purchased by Richard in tribute to a man he said can "never be replaced".
He last met him "a couple of months ago" and though frail, the Bishop had asked how Richard and his family were faring after the death of his mother a year previous. "He always remembered everybody and was very much in touch with everyone," said Richard.
A guard of honour was formed by the players of Derry City Football Club. The Bishop had been a huge fan and even went on a European tour with them a decade ago.
It was, perhaps, the ultimate mark of his efforts for peace that the bells of St Columb's, the Church of Ireland cathedral, tolled mournfully in unison with the Catholic chimes during the funeral.
Just a few seats in the cathedral were reserved on the grounds that absolutely anybody was welcome to attend - an invitation that was eagerly taken up.
Up to 25,000 people had streamed through the doors of the cathedral to pay their respects over the last number of days, some gently reaching to touch the face of the bishop as he lay in state.
His embroidered stole and beloved bible lay open on the coffin during the mass.
Chief mourners were Bishop Daly's sisters, Anne Gibson and Marion Ferguson.
Fr Michael Collins, retired parish priest from the Bogside, who was in college in Rome with Bishop Daly, presented his sisters with a photograph of their brother taken at a football pitch in 1957.
"He was a rotten footballer," he quipped.
But he was a man with an interest in everything, of great faith and a peacemaker, he said.
Representatives were there from across the communities, including Angela Garvey, the Lord Lieutenant of Derry, the Queen's representative.
Dr Robin Eames, the former COI Primate of All Ireland, and Bishop Daly's counterpart in Derry in the early days, was there.
Monsignor Amaury Medina Blanco represented Pope Francis, while President Michael D Higgins was present.
The Taoiseach was represented by his ADC, Commandant Kieran Carey.
Minister Joe McHugh and Leas Cheann Comhairle Pat 'The Cope' Gallagher were also amongst those who attended.
The Nobel Laureat John Hume, Mark Durcan of the SDLP, and Martin McGuinness, Deputy First Minister, were there, as was musician Phil Coulter.
Amongst the congregation was Fr Aidan Troy, who had led a group of Catholic schoolgirls through a hateful Loyalist protest in the Ardoyne area of Belfast 15 years ago.
A frail but determined figure in a wheelchair was Ivan Cooper, one of the Protestant leaders of the Civil Rights campaign and a founding member of the SDLP.
"You're the star, I'm only the flower pot here," quipped Bishop of Derry, Donal McKeown as he posed for photographs with Mr Cooper.
Bishop Daly was described by Mr Cooper as "the most humane man" he ever met.
"I had the deepest respect for him - and I'm Church of Ireland," he declared.
Mr Cooper said he remembers "every single thing" about Bloody Sunday.
"It's impossible to forget," he said, adding that Bishop Daly "in many ways epitomised the whole thing".
But asked if he thought subsequent generations did not realise the significance of that fateful day, he said: "I think we're all guilty of that, maybe."