Leader who ‘risked everything for peace’

Fr Brian D’Arcy tells mourners how the late taoiseach prepared to build peace

 Former British prime minister Sir John Major at the funeral. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

Former British prime minister Sir John Major at the funeral. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

Tue, Aug 26, 2014, 01:00

Chief celebrant Fr Brian D’Arcy told mourners at yesterday’s State funeral that Albert Reynolds had had the courage to risk everything for peace because he knew nothing worth having was reached from an “island of safety”.

In his homily, Fr D’Arcy spoke of his own decades-long friendship with Mr Reynolds and how he prepared the ground for his attempt to build peace in the North long before he became taoiseach. “He said frequently to me: ‘I bring peace but there’s no votes in the North.’ His motives were pure.”

He added: “We owe an enormous debt of gratitude as a country, North and South, to Albert Reynolds, of course, but to others too: to John Major, John Hume, Gerry Adams, Alec Reid, and all the others who were so unfairly criticised at the time for trying to bring peace.”

Fr D’Arcy cited Mr Reynolds’s deep love for his wife Kathleen and their seven children. He said he himself was an “insufferably pious” clerical student when he became friends with Mr Reynolds almost 50 years ago.

At a chance meeting outside the Gresham hotel in Dublin, Mr Reynolds asked him to contribute an article for a show band magazine he was starting. When the future priest replied that he was not allowed to do so, Mr Reynolds asked what his father’s name was and he said it was Hugh. “Good man. Have an article in next week – we’ll call you Hughie.”

Mr Reynolds was always interested in Northern politics, said Fr D’Arcy.

“Some say his interest in the North came as a shock and suddenly appeared when he became taoiseach. Well I beg to differ. As a promoter in show business and showbands, he was in constant contact with the North on both sides.

“In showbands there was no religious difference, long before it became fashionable. For years before he entered politics, we also spoke passionately about how violence was destroying our beloved country.”

In the early 1990s, “mysterious letters” would be left for Mr Reynolds at the monastery in Co Fermanagh where Fr D’Arcy lives.

“I would bring it down quietly. He’d read it. An hour later when I was about to go home, he’d give me another envelope, to be collected. It was left at the monastery door, I have no idea who collected . . . but they always were,” he said.

“Albert was working away at making contacts and testing the waters long before he became taoiseach.”

Northern promise

Fr D’Arcy said Mass at the Reynolds family home the night he took office as taoiseach. “As I was leaving to go back up North that night he made this promise to me. He said: ‘Brian, before I leave this office I’ll have peace in the North.’ That was his promise on the day he became taoiseach and he did it.”

He added: “Had Albert not taken those risks for peace in all probability we’d still be killing one another to this day. And in the name of what? So it’s only fitting, I think, on this day that we remember almost 4,000 people who died in the decades before peace was brokered.”

In his final commendation at the Mass, Archbishop of Dublin Dr Diarmuid Martin said Mr Reynolds sought peace with determination.

“Today we urgently need an international community which seeks peace with similar determination at a moment in which our world is marked increasingly with horrendous violence.”

Pope Francis sent a telegram of condolence, saying he learned with sadness of Mr Reynolds’s death. “Recalling with gratitude the late taoiseach’s efforts to promote peace and reconciliation in Ireland, His Holiness prays for the eternal rest of his soul,” wrote Cardinal Pietro Parolin, secretary of state.