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Maurice Hayes: My dad's greatest legacy is that you can be more than one thing, says daughter Clodagh

Civil servant, devout GAA fan, writer, dedicated to peace... Maurice Hayes was a towering figure. But to Clodagh and his four other children, he was dad

By Lindy McDowell

When the definitive history of our Troubles comes to be written, the late Dr Maurice Hayes, who died just before Christmas 2017, will be remembered as a clarion voice of reason and reconciliation. Voted European Person of the Year in 2003, he served as Northern Ireland Ombudsman, Boundary Commissioner, Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health and Social Services and, for two terms, as an independent in the Irish Senate. He also chaired the Ireland Funds. Dr Hayes was credited with steering Down to All-Ireland GAA victory in 1960 - the first time the Sam Maguire had come north of the border. An author and writer he also contributed regularly to newspapers, specifically the Irish Independent and, occasionally, the Belfast Telegraph. In keeping with his reputation for promoting reconciliation, he was buried, after Requiem Mass in St Patrick's Church, Downpatrick, in the Church of Ireland Down Cathedral graveyard. But he wasn't just a towering figure in our wider history. Maurice Hayes was primarily a family man - husband of Johanna (Joan), father of five children Clodagh, Margaret, Dara, Garrett and Ronan, and grandfather of eight. In the week which would have marked his 91st birthday (July 8) his daughter Clodagh, who lives in London, pays tribute to her beloved father - and the lessons he taught her.

Q. How is your mother now?

A. My mother had her hip done about six weeks ago which has transformed her physically because she'd been in pain and she'd been hiding this from my dad. She kept saying "I'm fine, I'm fine", but she should have had it done about a year and a half ago. She's gone off to France now with one of my brothers and his little boy. That's where she and dad went every summer. She's been dreading it because she's going on her own without my dad but at the same time she knows he'd have wanted her to go. It's very hard for her. They were together more than 50 years (they were married 50 years last summer) and were very close. So it's very hard.

Q. His death prompted a tsunami of tributes from all sides of the community. Did that surprise you?

A. I think genuinely we couldn't believe it actually. Everybody was so nice and said such lovely things about him. And that was a real consolation - people telling us what he'd done for them and how he'd touched them. It helped us get over that initial grief. But in a way we were thinking 'Should we have asked him more about his life?' Because unless you asked him he never really told you what he was up to. The football stuff, my brothers would have been more in touch with than I was. He was keen on Down until his dying day. It was amazing the amount of stuff he still kept an interest in.

Q. Down the years your father played a key role in talking to and bringing together major political figures here. Growing up, were you aware of who these people were who were coming and going in your house - and of what your father was trying to achieve?

A. At the time you're a child and you don't know who a lot of these people are. John Hume would have been a very good friend of my dad's. We'd have holidayed in France with them and John was very good to me when I was a student. He sorted out for me to go to Strasbourg one summer and looked after me. By that stage I obviously would have known. But certainly when I was younger and they were around, I was never sure who they all were. You had people from different sides coming to speak to him. He was open to speak to anybody and to conciliate between the almost irreconcilable desires of both sides.

Q. What would you say was the greatest lesson he taught you?

A. The greatest lesson he taught me was to treat everybody the same no matter where they came from. I always felt, in a way, a bit disadvantaged whenever I went to school because I didn't know all the bigotry that you're supposed to know. (You know the sort of thing - going to such and such a school means this or coming from there means that.) My parents had both brought us up to think that everybody was all the same and you didn't really know the differences in society. I think someone said it about him very well... he was a man who talked to poets and princes and presidents and paupers. He could talk to anybody because he regarded everybody as equal.

He loved meeting other people. I remember we went to a cousin's wedding. It was just after one Christmas - a Christmas we'd all spent together. We discovered when we got to the wedding that our whole family were all seated together around the same table. My father just went "Noooo!" He loved meeting and chatting to new people. He looked around at us and said: "I've had enough of you lot."

Q. How do you remember him best?

A. It was actually how calm he always was and how ruthlessly efficient when he had to do something. When he wrote articles for the Irish Independent the words would just come from his head to the page in seconds. He always had time for everybody. And he never came across as somebody who was too busy. You know how some people like to make themselves seem very important by going: "I'm so busy, I'm so busy." My dad was the antithesis of that. Everything was done at a nice gentle pace. Yet, he was doing so much of it. And he was a very kind man.

Q. He was a twin, wasn't he?

A. Yes, his twin was my auntie Carmel who died about a year and a half before him. She was great. She was hilarious. She was a pharmacist in Belfast pretty much all her career. Later she retired to Downpatrick. She knew everything that was going on. She had a finger on every pulse.

Q. Your father was the first Catholic to hold the post of Ombudsman in Northern Ireland. And in a way you've also been blazing a trail - as a partner in a leading London firm of corporate lawyers. It's a role in which women are still under-represented. How did you end up there?

A. I went to Assumption Grammar in Ballynahinch and then left it to go to St Patrick's High School in Downpatrick which was a boys' school. There was just me and one other girl in the year. These days the sixth form is co-ed but the rest of the school isn't. The reason why I moved was that the combination of A-levels I wanted to do - sciences and French - I couldn't do in Ballynahinch, so off I went. It was an interesting experience. Actually I preferred St Patrick's - we called it the Red High.

I've worked for the legal firm for more than 20 years and it is very hard work. Exhausting. It's hard work, it's well paid but it's full-on all the time. That works for me but it's tough. And yes, there is a male/female differential. If you consider there's 50/50 intake men and women at recruitment stage at the age of 21/22, by the time you get up to the partnership track it's down to about 70/30. And then only about 10/15% of the partners are female. But it's not just a simplistic situation. Women do also made different choices. Although it's also fair to say that the environment is not necessarily conducive to them wanting to stay on.

Q. After he'd played such a vital role in getting people together here, how do you think your father would feel about the ongoing impasse at Stormont?

A. I think he was just disgusted by everybody's behaviour. My dad thought it was madness for Sinn Fein to focus on the Irish Language Act. And he believed that the DUP were just like 17th century pamphleteers who would give anybody a kick on the way past. I think with the Irish language what the DUP are saying is we don't want to do this and Sinn Fein are looking at it as a way to make the DUP look intransigent. As for my dad I think he would feel that, for a start at least, they should stop them being paid for not turning up.

Q. The wider world seems more divided than ever too, not least over Brexit and Trump ...

A. It's just so depressing. I actually think I'm having some sort of existential crisis. I'm so angry at the minute. My husband Nick is like: "You need to deal with your rage." But I think that Brexit is just the biggest disaster to hit this country. My dad did say that he thought the English would vote to leave but he thought it would just be too complicated and they'd have to keep kicking it into the long grass. So that's what I'm hoping for. That it never happens. Then you look at Trump in America. I read a very good article about how taking children away from their parents is a trial run for fascism. They're testing how far they can push it. I don't think it's social media that's making matters worse in terms of fostering division. I think it goes back further than that. My dad used to say that people are reacting to 24-hour news so they not interested in policies that take time to make an impact. People aren't prepared to give things time or think out strategies that might work.

Q. How did your father relax?

A. My dad read everything. I only read novels. I don't read lots of other worthy tomes. But he'd read everything. Every book that came out on Irish history, every book that came out on politics. He did read novels but for the last year or so he'd go: "I don't really see the point of that."

Poetry was his great love. He was very friendly with Seamus Heaney and also Michael Longley. For him poets were the sort of people he admired most because they were actually creating something of beauty. He could appreciate their work but I think he felt he couldn't create something like that.

Q. What would you say was your father's greatest legacy?

A. I think it's his reasoning about how you can be more than one thing. About how identity is more than one thing and you can dip in and out. He was very big in the GAA which is seen as so identified with the nationalist side yet at the same time he worked as a civil servant in Stormont and he flitted between the two with great ease. And it's just that way of being very true to yourself yet able to adapt to different environments. And it's showing people how that can be done - that you can live with people who have different views from you or different beliefs without trampling on those beliefs. I think his biggest legacy is respect for others. And if you have respect for others it's much easier to live in harmony with them even if you don't agree with them.

Q. Were you taken aback when he discussed with the family his plan to be buried in Down Cathedral graveyard?

A. (She laughs.) Actually that wasn't discussed. We were told. It was a very last-minute decision I think. My mum and I had bought a plot in Ardglass where my mum's from. Towards the end he was talking to Father Sean (Canon Sean Rogan) and he just said, "You know what, I'd like to be buried in Downpatrick, in Down Cathedral, that's where I'd like". So they went and saw Dean (Henry) Hull and sorted it out. We all thought it was perfect because it was so lovely that we had the service in the Catholic church and then we went up to the Protestant Cathedral which is such a lovely spot. We just thought, typical of him really. I suppose one last bit of bringing together. As soon as we heard it we just thought 'That's perfect'.

Q. And what about you, do you ever see yourself coming back to live in Co Down?

A. I miss Down. Whenever I'm at home I think 'God, I'd love to be back here'. I'm very good at living in the present, so I love wherever I am. I miss it but I miss it in the abstract. I've been home quite a lot recently and I do love it. I feel that's where I'm from, that's my home. But whether I'd ever move back full-time - I don't know. I've got my sisters in Belfast and my two brothers in Dublin so there's enough to bring me back without having to say I'm going to move back permanently.

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