Friday 28 October 2016

Obituary: A grounded and compassionate man with a unique insight into the complexities of the Troubles

Published 13/08/2016 | 02:30

Edward Daly holding a portrait of Jackie Duddy, a teenager who was shot dead in Bloody Sunday in 1972. Picture credit: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Edward Daly holding a portrait of Jackie Duddy, a teenager who was shot dead in Bloody Sunday in 1972. Picture credit: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Bishop of Derry Edward Daly, who died this week, was one of the IRA's toughest critics, condemning its gunmen from the pulpit as "followers of the gospel of Satan".

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From a humble curate to one of the most influential prelates in recent church history, Edward Daly remained a grounded and compassionate man. When he published his autobiography in 2000, there were no airs and graces. It was fittingly called: "Mister, Are you a Priest?"

His life in the cauldron of the Troubles gave him unique insight into its complexities. From the day he first came to help a dying teenager by attempting to shepherd him through the carnage of Bloody Sunday, waving the blood-soaked hanky embroidered for him by his mother, Edward Daly became one of the leading voices of the church in Ireland. His faith could hardly have endured a sterner test than the slaughter he witnessed that day.

A lesser man might have turned cynical, but Bloody Sunday merely served to convince Bishop Daly that violence in pursuit of political goals could never be justified. It was his conviction that the dead had been unarmed and were cut down in cold blood that gave added weight to demands for an impartial inquiry.

In his own view it was his association with Bloody Sunday that catapulted him to being the city's bishop two years later. News footage of his attempt to save Jackie Duddy resonated across the world.

He said it "changed my life completely. I lost my anonymity. I was the priest with the handkerchief, and that was it. It was dreadful, dreadful."

He received threats over the years from Loyalists and Republicans alike, and became constantly afraid of meeting people who would be angry with him. His stooped figure, handkerchief in hand, was immortalised in a mural on the side of a house, painted by the Bogside Artists in 1997. He was a forceful witness at the Widgery inquiry soon after the event, and was shocked when it exonerated troops from the Parachute Regiment, concluding that they had come under attack from gunmen and bombers. His verdict was damning: "It was the second atrocity."

When Tony Blair in 1998 set up a second inquiry under Lord Saville, Dr Daly again said the anti-internment demonstrators had posed no threat to the army. Yet he also testified to having seen an IRA gunman fire three times at soldiers who apparently did not spot him. "This didn't make me the most popular person in town," he said.

When Saville reported in 2010, placing the blame squarely on the troops, Dr Daly hailed "a good day for truth and justice - we've waited all these years." Saying the process of forgiving could now begin, he particularly welcomed David Cameron's "powerful statement" underpinning the findings.

On Bloody Sunday, Daly, a curate at St Eugene's Cathedral, had gone out to reassure old folk as disorder broke out close to the march. Demonstrators began running away; Saracen armoured cars appeared and firing began. It was then that he saw 17-year-old Jackie Duddy shot in the back.

Pinned down by gunfire, Daly gave Jackie the last rites and tried to stem the blood. Another young man danced past shouting hysterically: "Shoot me, shoot me."

"Then a soldier stepped out, went down on one knee, took aim and fired at him. He was hit in the leg and, fortunately, survived. It was the one occasion in my lifetime when I witnessed one human being deliberately shoot another."

On his way home, Daly was stopped by an Army patrol.

"I showed them my hands, which were completely covered in blood. I asked what on earth possessed them to do what they did. After I got back, the enormity of what I had just witnessed crashed in on me. I wept profusely."

For Daly, it was "the day I lost any romantic notions or ambivalence I may have had about the morality of the use of arms as a means of resolving our political problems."

But others drew a different conclusion. "Countless young people were motivated to become involved in armed struggle and, as a direct result, joined the Provisional IRA. I am not at all sure how I would have reacted, had I been a teenager."

He later used the authority of his office to condemn terrorism and urge the authorities to abandon counter-productive security policies. Internment had, he observed, brought "the replacement of men suspected of violence with a new, younger and evidently more irresponsible breed of extremist."

He worked tirelessly across the sectarian divide for peace, and played a part in securing the IRA ceasefire of 1975. He invited prayers in his church for British soldiers, and told Americans that dollars sent to the paramilitaries were "helping to inflict further suffering and continued injustice".

He was also instrumental in attempting to end the dispute over IRA prisoners' demand for "political" status that culminated in the hunger strike of 1981 in which Bobby Sands and nine others died.

Daly visited IRA prisoners and pressed for improvements in their treatment, but was cautious over pursuing claims that they were innocent. His decision to campaign for the release of the Birmingham Six was thus significant.

Edward Kevin Daly was born in 1933 at Belleek, Co Fermanagh. He boarded at St Columb's College in Derry, then studied for the priesthood at the Irish College in Rome. His first curacy was at Castlederg, Co Tyrone, then in 1962 he was appointed to St Eugene's.

Horrified by conditions in the Bogside, Daly raised morale by putting on amateur theatricals.

In 1973 he moved to Dublin as religious adviser to RTÉ, "a very important escape for me". He became a regular participant in religious and current affairs broadcasts. In 1980 Dr Daly accused the killers of a soldier home on compassionate leave after the stillbirth of his child of "an inhuman and criminal act of the lowest order". And when two years later two soldiers were shot close to his cathedral, Daly put out leaflets urging Catholics to turn the killers in. In 1986 he angered the IRA by telling Catholics who condoned terrorism they had effectively excommunicated themselves.

Suffering a stroke in February 1993, Daly retired as bishop that autumn; thereafter he worked as chaplain to a hospice. Just before his stroke, he reopened contacts with Sinn Féin on prospects for ending the violence.

The Most Reverend Edward Daly, born December 5, 1933, died August 8, 2016

Irish Independent

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