Belfast Telegraph

Bishop Seamus Hegarty mourners told of his 'kindness and generosity'

The funeral at St Eugene’s Cathedral in Londonderry of former Bishop of Derry and Raphoe Seamus Hegarty
The funeral at St Eugene’s Cathedral in Londonderry of former Bishop of Derry and Raphoe Seamus Hegarty
Former Bishop of Derry and Raphoe Seamus Hegarty
Archbishop Eamon Martin and Cardinal Sean Brady at the funeral
The coffin is carried into the cathedral
Leona O'Neill

By Leona O'Neill

Hundreds of mourners packed into St Eugene's Cathedral yesterday for the Requiem Mass of former Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Seamus Hegarty.

Dr Hegarty, a Donegal native, died aged 79 in Letterkenny University Hospital on Friday.

He had been battling dementia for the last eight years.

The former bishop's body had been resting at Derry city's cathedral since Saturday.

Groups of local students from many of Londonderry's post-primary schools provided a guard of honour outside the church as mourners filed in for the service.

Among them were SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and former MP Mark Durkan.

A procession of more than 100 bishops and priests entered the church as the bells tolled to mark the start of the noon ceremony.

Inside, Bishop Donal McKeown spoke of the cruelty of dementia.

"But while his body had kept going until a few days ago, much of who he was had ebbed away over the last eight years since he was forced to retire as Bishop of Derry because of ill health," he said.

"Dementia in its various forms is a cruel affliction.

"Much of the person has died long before the heart ceases to beat."

After some years as a school principal in Falcarragh, Donegal, Dr Hegarty was appointed Bishop of Raphoe at the age of 42. He served there for 12 years, followed by 17 years as Bishop in the Derry diocese, being nominated to Derry on October 1, 1994. Bishop McKeown said many of those years were "very challenging years North and South, partly connected with the Troubles, where - like many church people - he used all possible channels to stop (the) killing and to build bridges".

During his homily Bishop McKeown also spoke of the wave of clerical child sex abuse allegations that swept across Northern Ireland in the 1990s.

Dr Hegarty had caused controversy for his response to the issue.

In 2005, he apologised to Derry parishioners for not telling them that some of their donations were going towards a central church fund to support victims of clerical sex abuse.

Bishop McKeown recalled how the challenging years of the Troubles "were also heavily marked by the revelations of child sexual abuse".

"Terrible crimes had been inflicted on young people across this country and around the world - and, for a range of reasons, grave errors were made in responding to the wave of allegations," he told mourners.

"That has all left a legacy of pain, alienation and mistrust.

"The Dioceses of Raphoe and Derry were no different from anywhere else.

"He knew as well as any that we come before God, never boasting of our achievements nor crushed by our failures but trusting in the Cross of Christ.

"Only the often uncomfortable truth can set any of us free."

Bishop McKeown also spoke of Dr Hegarty's "deep sense of commitment" to Irish emigrants, education and community. He described him as a "simple man".

"We come together to commend to the Lord one who bore the many burdens of office with complete dedication," he said.

"At heart he was a simple man. Kindness and generosity were hallmarks of his nature - even though a tougher exterior might sometimes have shown itself.

"He had an unflagging loyalty to the Church and to its service, in whatever role he was asked to play.

"But he knew that we are all in need of redemption - and he would never presume on the grace of God."

Dr Hegarty was laid to rest in the grounds of St Eugene's Cathedral beside the grave of the late Bishop Edward Daly.

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