| 7.5°C Dublin

Outspoken critic of violence who bridged religious divide

The death of Cardinal Cahal Brendan Daly from cardiac failure in a Belfast hospital, aged 92, marks the passing of the most important and internationally renowned Irish Church leader during the turbulent period from the late 1960s until his retirement as Primate of All Ireland in 1996.

Small of stature but with a capacious brain, his most cherished personal memory was listening to Pope John Paul II at Drogheda, Co Louth, in 1979 when the Polish pontiff appealed to the IRA, "on my knees", to end its armed struggle, using the emotional words for peace scripted by Daly, then Bishop of Down and Connor.

Long an unpopular, even detested figure in republican circles during the Troubles, Dr Daly was an outspoken critic of Provisional IRA and loyalist paramilitary violence. Along with then Church of Ireland Primate, Archbishop Robin Eames, he was to the fore in breaking down denominational barriers between the two communities, the Catholic and Protestant 'tribes' which they represented.

With Archbishop Eames and other church leaders, Cardinal Daly travelled to the United States to inform Irish Americans about the situation in Ulster and insist that both sides wanted permanent peace and inward American investment.

His retirement, on his 79th birthday, on October 1, 1996, was hailed by Archbishop Eames as marking the end of a significant chapter in church life throughout Ireland.

Cardinal Daly, who spent his long retirement as Emeritus Archbishop of Armagh engaged in his first love -- the reading and writing of books, both philosophical and theological -- prided himself as being the only living Irish bishop to have attended the Second Vatican Council, from 1962-65.

Born at Loughuile in the glens of Co Antrim, he boarded at the elite St Malachy's College, Belfast, before studying classics at Queen's University where he took a BA Honours and also the Henry Medal in Latin studies in 1937. After completing his MA, the following year, Charlie, as he was then called, studied for the priesthood at St Patrick's College, Maynooth, and was ordained by Archbishop John Charles McQuaid on June 22, 1941.

The studious young Daly continued post-graduate studies in Maynooth, where he earned some pocket money supervising the philosophical studies of an equally academically minded Dubliner from Phibsboro called Desmond Connell, a fellow future cardinal.

His career in the golden ecclesiastical circle became assured when in 1945 he was appointed lecturer in scholastic philosophy at Queen's University. His big love was heading to Paris to devour the existentialist writings of French philosophers like Sartre and Camus, balancing this interest by reading the Catholic followers of St Thomas Aquinas, such as Jacques Maritain and Jean Guitton.

My fondest memory of Cahal was in the mid-1970s when I had an inside seat in a crowded flight from Dublin to Brussels, and he came scurrying on as one of the last passengers weighed down by a suitcase of books. I helped him to get the laden bag into the luggage rack and he sat down beside me.

I had already become absorbed in one of the novels of the Belfast writer Brian Moore, one of my heroes.

When I showed him the cover of 'The Luck of Ginger Coffey', Cahal, his eyebrows shooting up and down in excited intellect, immediately astounded me when he said that he was at St Malachy's with Moore, by then strongly anti-clerical. We talked for some time about Moore, and then he pulled out his breviary. Just as he began reading the Church's daily office, he again astounded me with an unexpected remark: "Yes, and Brian saw a much wider world than we did in Malachy's."

In our discussions over the years, especially when he was Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise, I used to complain to him that I didn't see much evidence of Moore in his numerous speeches and books, many of them modestly progressive but within a policy of "controlled change", mainly by way of introducing the Mass in English from Latin, which was prescribed for the post-Vatican II Church in Ireland by the formidable Cardinal William 'Bill' Conway.

In October 1982, while recovering from a severe heart attack, Bishop Daly was appointed by Pope Paul VI to succeed the by-then reactionary and divisive William Philbin as Bishop of Down and Connor. He moved to restore the good name of a Ballymurphy priest, Fr Des Wilson, whom Philbin had mercilessly victimised.

When the ailing Cardinal Conway died in April 1977, Cahal Daly was the hot favourite to succeed him in Armagh but he was pipped at the post by the appointment of the republican-minded Monsignor Tomas O Fiaich.

When, in turn, Cardinal O'Fiaich died in Lourdes of a massive heart attack in May 1990, Cahal Daly's big promotion to Armagh came at the age of 73, and he was made a Cardinal shortly afterwards.

Arguably, however, his elevation had come too late for him to make the vigorous impact on the Irish Church he was eminently capable of.

Indeed, the argument can be made that his last years in office fitted Enoch Powell's dictum that all careers end in failure. By training and outlook, he proved himself unsuited to the imperative of dealing with the crimes of paedophile priests.

He was found to have lied in regard to his knowledge of the Norbertine monk, Fr Brendan Smyth. Although he presided over the introduction in 1996 of the Irish Church's first child protection measures, they were for him, as for Archbishop Connell of Dublin, only guidelines.

Nor, too, did he tolerate calls for women priests or show himself to be sympathetic to the appeal of the Bishop of Ferns, Brendan Comiskey, for a public debate on allowing priests to marry by ending the law of compulsory clerical celibacy. He had become the voice of the more conservative restoration policies enforced by John Paul II and now Benedict XVI.

In retirement, he produced a flood of publications, including a mediocre memoir but also well-researched reflections on philosophy. In many respects, he was a transition prelate caught between the old authoritarianism of the McQuaid era and the painful move towards a more accountable Church under Cardinal Sean Brady and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin.


Irish Independent