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Why we are the poorer for losing this true Christian gentleman

By Alf McCreary

Published 13/08/2016

Huge compassion: Edward Daly worked for peace in Ireland
Huge compassion: Edward Daly worked for peace in Ireland

The death of Bishop Edward Daly this week, at the age of 82, was a reminder of how difficult it was to hold high office during the worst of the Troubles.

He served as Bishop of Derry from 1974-1993 with great courage and dignity.

The many tributes he received this week from other Catholic and Protestant Church leaders, politicians and the general public were well deserved.

A great deal has been written about the way in which Bishop Daly spoke and behaved during some of the worst years of the Troubles, and how he worked hard with his Church of Ireland counterparts, the former Bishops of Derry and Raphoe, Robin Eames and James Mehaffey, and other church leaders to build bridges across a troubled city.

All concerned did this in a way which was an example to all of us and the work of Edward Daly will receive an honoured place when the definitive history of those awful days is written.

Though his role as a bishop was well-known, some of the personal stories from those who knew him can tell us a lot about the private man behind the public image.

Our paths crossed a number of times and I always liked and respected him.

On one occasion, in 1976, we appeared together on RTE's Late Late Show when Gay Byrne, then one of the major figures in Irish television, was the presenter.

Bishop Daly talked about the situation in Derry, and I also talked about one of my early books, called 'Survivors', which was - to my knowledge - the first detailed public account of how the victims of violence were dealing with the trauma of their injuries.

When the bishop and I had finished our slot, the entertainer Rolf Harris went before the cameras. He was in his prime and nothing then was known about his dark deeds which later landed him in prison.

In the RTE studio, Harris was scheduled to mime to a live broadcast of his hit song 'Two Little Boys'. This was normally a routine broadcast for any seasoned professional. However, Harris could not do it.

To the astonishment of everyone, he broke down twice, abandoned the song and came to sit beside me, whereupon he poured a jug of water over his head.

It was an extraordinary and totally unscheduled moment on live national television.

Momentarily, we did not know what to do to help retrieve the situation and to bring some normality to the broadcast.

Very quickly, however, Gay Byrne and Edward Daly came across to comfort Rolf Harris, who was still distressed, and the bishop's pastoral qualities were very evident on that occasion.

I have often wondered why Harris broke down that evening, and maybe his trial and imprisonment would provide part of the answer.

Some years later, I spent an afternoon with Edward Daly in the Parochial House in Derry when I was carrying out research for my biography of Lord Eames.

Edward Daly spoke warmly about his former colleague who had worked with him so closely in helping to bring reconciliation to Derry.

On that afternoon we spent together, Edward Daly, who by that stage had retired as a bishop, was working as chaplain to the Foyle Hospice, a role which he cherished and which fitted him exactly.

Sadly, much later on, he and I exchanged sharp letters about an article I had written about the alleged involvement of a priest in the 1972 Claudy bombing. Edward Daly objected strongly to my article and, on this occasion, I could not let his letter go unanswered.

About a year later, I had to ring him urgently in connection with a story I was writing for this paper.

He made himself readily available and, when I expressed my regret for our previous exchange of letters, he said to me: "Don't worry at all Alf, I'd forgotten all about it."

His comments were genuine, and his words taught me a lesson about moving on.

Edward Daly was a fine bishop, chaplain and pastor, and a true Christian gentleman.

Belfast Telegraph

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