Belfast Telegraph

Maurice Hayes' funeral carries on cross-community theme that was bedrock of his life

BY ALLAN PRESTON

HUNDREDS gathered at two Downpatrick churches yesterday - one Catholic, the other Protestant - to salute highly respected former senior civil servant and prominent GAA figure Dr Maurice Hayes.

Those attending his funeral service at St Patrick's Catholic Church included Irish President Michael D Higgins.

Dr Hayes, who passed away on Saturday aged 90, is survived by his wife Johanna and children Clodagh, Margaret, Dara, Garrett and Ronan.

A proud Down man from Killough, he was the first Catholic to be Northern Ireland Ombudsman, and made the unusual request to be buried in the graveyard of the Church of Ireland's Down Cathedral.

Thought to be the burial site of St Patrick, he wanted his final resting place to be rooted in the history of the county he lived his entire life in.

For a man who dedicated his career to healing division, he also thought it fitting his funeral should be a cross-community one.

Reaching the top of the Civil Service, Dr Hayes' remarkable career saw him work behind the scenes on the 1974 Sunningdale Agreement, later serve as permanent secretary of the Department of Health and Social Services, and contribute to the Patten Report that recommended a new start to policing in the province.

Among his roles, he served as an independent Irish Senator, and was a long-serving non-executive director of Independent News & Media.

As county secretary of the GAA in Down, his organisational skills were to the fore when the Mournemen won the All-Ireland Gaelic Football championship in 1960, becoming the first team to bring the Sam Maguire cup across the border.

Players from that groundbreaking team formed a guard of honour for his coffin following yesterday's service.

Representing Taoiseach Leo Varadkar yesterday was his aide-de-camp, Comdt. Caroline Burke.

North and South Down MPs Lady Hermon and Chris Hazzard were joined by the former SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell and his party colleague Sinead Bradley MLA.

Also in attendance was well-known cleric Fr Brian D'arcy, journalist Eamonn Mallie and former Armagh GAA star Jarlath Burns.

Canon Sean Rogan led the service, himself a former student of Dr Hayes in his days as an Irish and English literature teacher in St Patrick's Grammar School in Downpatrick.

"I knew Maurice as a pupil of his, fellow citizen of Killough and life-long friend," he said.

Growing up with his five siblings in the seaside village, Canon Rogan said the religious tolerance of the people there cemented Dr Hayes' later outlook on life.

"Intolerance, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim - bigotry of any kind or from any quarter was totally anathema to him," the priest said.

"Hypocrisy he loathed, whether in the realms of politics or religion.

"He was a 'down-to-earth' person, a man with the common touch.

"Whether chatting with the locals in Denvir's Hotel or mixing with those in the corridors of power, he was at ease with pauper, peasant, poet, president or prince."

He added: "Maurice Hayes was diamond standard - a many faceted life full of colour and intensity and brilliance. Truly a prismed person."

His sons Dara and Ronan added to the emotional tributes, remembering a loving father.

"Most of us would be thrilled to have achieved just one of his many successes," said Dara.

"He worked full-time right into his mid-80s, and only then did he begin to slow down and take things easy. Taking things easy for him was only doing half-a-dozen things at any one time."

He described how his father loved his work, in particular the people it brought him into contact with.

"He wasn't fixated with flags or borders," he said. "The nation state he didn't consider a useful concept.

"He was a European, an Irishman, he was an Ulsterman. Most important of all, he was a Co Down man."

Expressing his thanks that his father could be buried at Down Cathedral beneath his beloved Mourne Mountains, he said he believed his father's wish was that Heaven could look something like Down.

Ronan Hayes added: "Some of my fondest memories were in long car journeys with my daddy.

"When we went to GAA matches I observed he treated everyone with the same level of respect, which he taught us to do as well."

His father was especially fond of The Times crossword and he admitted - prompting laughter from the crowd - he would even be spotted trying to discreetly complete it during weddings and funerals.

Concluding, he remembered how deeply devoted his father had been to his mother.

Sean O'Neill, a member of the winning 1960 Down team, was 18 when he first encountered Dr Hayes, whom he recalled as "a very impressive figure" in the GAA at the time.

"He brought his immense intelligence and organisational skills to transform the Down team and the history of the GAA - the great team of which I was privileged to be a member went on to break all kinds of records," he said.

The touching service featured other family members reading prayers and poems personally selected by Dr Hayes.

Further demonstrating the esteem in which he was held, clerics from three other traditions read reflections - the Church of Ireland's Dean Henry Hull, former Presbyterian moderator the Rev John Dunlop, and former Methodist president Rev Harold Good, known for overseeing the decommissioning of IRA arms.

Bishop of Down and Connor Noel Treanor said that "Maurice espoused the highest ideals and virtues of citizenship".

He added: "He will be remembered for his capacity to respectfully bring together diverse political opinion and ideas."

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph