Sunday 22 April 2018

Bloody Sunday 'white handkerchief' Bishop Edward Daly dies aged 82

Edward Daly, former bishop of Derry
Edward Daly, former bishop of Derry

Sarah MacDonald

The death has taken place of Bishop Edward Daly, the catholic bishop of Derry from 1974 to 1993.

The 82-year-old had been battling cancer in recent weeks.

Dr Daly will forever be associated with Bloody Sunday in January 1972 as the priest waving a bloodied white handkerchief as he led a small group through the streets of Derry in search of medical assistance for Jackie Duddy. 

Harried by British soldiers, by the day’s end the troops had gunned down 13 civil rights protesters leaving an indelible scar on the city. 

Although born in Beleek, Co Fermanagh in December 1933, the people and city of Derry held a special place in Bishop Daly’s heart. 

He was educated at St Columb's College in Derry and studied for the priesthood in the Irish College in Rome. He was ordained a priest on 16 March 1957.

He then spent 17 years of parish ministry as a curate in Castlederg and Derry and almost twenty years as bishop of Derry before ill health forced him into retirement.

Popular, within his diocese and well beyond, there was much regret at the time that a reforming voice should be lost to the hierarchy to early in his episcopacy. 

In retirement, he ministered for over twenty years as a chaplain at Foyle Hospice, which provides palliative care for patients with life-limiting illnesses, while supporting their families and loved ones.

Up to last year he had ministered to over 800 people who died at the hospice since he began keeping records in in 1998. 

In an interview with the Catholic Times newspaper last year, Bishop Daly admitted that while he loved his priesthood, he was “a somewhat reluctant bishop”.

He wrote about his years in parish ministry in his book, ‘Mister, Are You a Priest?’ (2000). 

He worked for a short period with RTE in Dublin in late 1973 and early 1974 before he was ordained to the See of Derry on 31 March 1974 in St Eugene’s Cathedral.

He was just turned forty and he became the youngest bishop in Ireland and one of the youngest bishops in Europe at the time. 

The Provisional IRA and the British Army observed an unofficial truce for the day in Derry. He was vocally opposed to the use of violence. At his first Mass as bishop of Derry he said in his homily that he deplored the use of violence of any kind. “Surely it must be clear to everyone by now that violence create far more problems than it can every hope to solve.” 

In an interview with the Catholic Times in 2015, Bishop Daly said, when asked if he feared death, “No I don’t.” However, he said that prior to working in the hospice what had frightened him was “the mechanics of dying – not so death itself – but getting there”.

But thanks to the hospice, he felt the “mechanics of dying are somewhat easier” and he also paid tribute to the respect that is given to each individual in the hospice. “I hope we in some way bring comfort when people are coming towards the end.”

Last year, Bishop Daly and his Church of Ireland counterpart, Bishop James Mehaffey, were made Freemen of the City of Derry, joining such notables as British statesman Winston Churchill, Nobel Peace Laureate John Hume and Dr Tom McGinley, a local GP who founded Foyle Hospice.

The honour was made in recognition of the ecumenism, courage and Christian values that the two church leaders had shown in helping to build bridges across divided communities and to pave the way for dialogue and peace in Northern Ireland. 

In a tribute, the current Bishop of Derry, Dr Donal McKeown, described them as “two courageous figures who took huge risks for peace in the most difficult years of the Troubles”. 

His friendship with “Bishop Jim” was most valuable in the aftermath of an atrocity when they would together visit the bereaved. They were able to talk to one another when either of them was having a difficult time within their own community.

“After Bloody Sunday, I had a difficult time as many people in the Loyalist/Unionist community would have seen my action on that day as sympathetic to Republicans – just simply in terms of being critical of the British Army. I perceived it as pastoral ministry – dealing with people who were wounded and trying to get them to hospital and giving them the last rights and praying with them as they died. Ultimately, Savile reported on it and I think people then came to accept what I was really about – that it was pastoral ministry.” 

One of his “great heroes” was Derry native John Hume, without whom he was convinced peace wouldn’t have come to Northern Ireland, as it was Hume’s ideas that were adopted. 

The Bishop believed John Hume’s “fingerprints were all over the Good Friday Agreement just as they were all over the Sunningdale Agreement” and paid tribute to Hume whom he said had been involved in “every positive thing that has happened in the North over the last 40 years”.  

Dr Daly was at the heart of efforts to tackle the dereliction of Derry city centre through a charitable trust which bought properties and involved local young people in redeveloping them. By the time he retired from the Inner City Trust in early 2000, it had a portfolio of property worth £25m and all its debts had been cleared.

It had seen the redevelopment of places such as the city’s Tower Museum, the craft centre and the Nerve centre, a rehearsal space for music and theatre, as well as the school of animation. 

A product of Vatican II, in his 2011 memoir, ‘A Troubled See’, Bishop Daly discussed ending the compulsory celibacy for priests.

In the book he argued, “There is certainly an important and enduring place for celibate priesthood. But I believe that there should also be a place in the modern Catholic Church for married priesthood and for men who do not wish to commit themselves to celibacy.”

Online Editors

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News