Belfast Telegraph

There was no old pals' act the time I asked for interview after Adams was seen in cathedral

By Malachi O'Doherty

In my first interview with Eddie Daly, I was nervous for two reasons. I had been briefed that he was an old media hand, far more experienced than myself.

And, sure enough, when we had settled on a sofa in his house beside the cathedral, he noted my ineptitude in taking level and holding the microphone.

And I was unsure how to deal with a bishop. Both of us came of a generation and a culture in which I would have been expected to treat him as royalty, even kiss his ring. So, I wasn't confident that he wouldn't be lordly and presumptuous, as other bishops routinely were with the media.

Daly was fine.

We chatted for about an hour, aside from the interview, and I felt confident we would get on like old friends when we met again.

That's not always how it worked out. I dealt with him in relation to several stories.

One of them concerned Michael Williams, a man who had had to flee Londonderry after calling the police to an incident in which the IRA had taken over the house next door to him.

I visited the bishop after interviewing a Sinn Fein member who had insisted that people in Derry normally knew not to call the police, but to go directly to the IRA if they had complaints about their behaviour.

I told Eddie about this and his comment was: "There's a man who has seen a few people out of this world."

So he knew the IRA and he knew that he had to have dealings with them, but he was contemptuous of their excuses for their behaviour and the burden they imposed on their community.

Once, around 1991, I was with a camera crew in the cathedral, recording some of his sermon on a Bloody Sunday anniversary.

The cameraman spotted Gerry Adams in the congregation.

Dr Daly insisted that he would not give us an interview unless we promised not to use the footage of Adams and made us sign a letter to that effect.

He suspected, I think, that the whole thing had been a set-up.

It wasn't.

But our old mateyness counted for nothing then.

And I thought he was finished with me altogether after articles I wrote about James Chesney, the Derry priest who was named as a member of the IRA bomb team that killed eight people in Claudy in 1972.

Dr Daly stood firmly on the argument that we had no right to judge the man, now that he was dead and had not been convicted of any crime.

I didn't see the pastoral side of Daly, because I had long ceased to be a Catholic, but I heard stories that suggested he was a bit stuffy at times.

A friend, who had been one of his priests until he left to get married, told me Daly's response to the news that he wanted out.

He'd said: "Would you not think of taking up golf?" - as if that was a viable alternative to the love of a woman.

I last met him five years ago, to record an interview - yet another - on his recollections of Bloody Sunday.

He was now retired, working on another book and doing what he did best.

He was an ordinary priest again, attending to the dying in a Derry hospice.

During the interview, he would get called away to deal with a woman who was slipping away fast, but we had chatted around our theme and a lot else besides, including death and his own mortality.

"None of us know," he said, "what comes after."

I was shocked. I said: "I thought it was your job to say you do know what comes after."

He wasn't outing himself as a closet atheist, just saying that there was enough to be getting on with in this life without worrying about the next.

Belfast Telegraph


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