Thursday 23 January 2020

The priest waving a white handkerchief became a 'reluctant bishop'

Bishop Daly pictured with John Hume and Charles Haughey Photo: NPA/Independent collection
Bishop Daly pictured with John Hume and Charles Haughey Photo: NPA/Independent collection

Sarah MacDonald

Bishop Edward Daly will be forever be remembered as the priest waving a bloodied white handkerchief on Bloody Sunday in January 1972.

This iconic image of a priest leading a group of people through the streets of Derry in search of medical assistance for Jackie Duddy became a symbol of the struggle for peace in the North.

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, on December 5, 1933, the people and city of Derry held a special place in Bishop Daly's heart.

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

He then spent 17 years of parish ministry as a curate in Castlederg and Derry and almost 20 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 so early in his episcopacy.

In retirement, he ministered for over 20 years as a chaplain at Foyle Hospice, which provides palliative care for patients with life-limiting illnesses. Up to last year, he had ministered to over 800 people who died at the hospice.

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?'

He worked for a short period with RTÉ in late 1973 and early 1974 before he was ordained to the See of Derry on March 31, 1974, in St Eugene's Cathedral. He had just turned 40 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.

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 creates far more problems than it can ever hope to solve."

Last year, Bishop Daly and his Church of Ireland counterpart, Bishop James Mahaffey, 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".

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".

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.

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

Irish Independent

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