Appreciation: Dr James Daly

Dr James Daly

Dr James Daly


James Daly, who died on October 12th, came with his wife Miriam to live in Belfast in 1968.

Born of Irish emigrants in Cheshire in 1937, he was the youngest of six children. Their father died when James was four, his mother when he was eight. Following that bitter loss, James was separated from his siblings and came to live with his aunt in Dromintee, Co Armagh, where he developed a lifelong love for Sliabh Gullion and the Cooley peninsula. Indeed, as a child, he informed his uncle that he loved everything about Ireland except the nettles.

After his schooldays in St Patrick’s, Armagh, he spent some years as a seminarian in Maynooth. Leaving before ordination, he took with him an immense, excited interest in philosophy, the subject he would teach at university level in Southampton, Reading and, for some thirty years, Queen’s.

It was in Southampton that James met Miriam McDonnell, a Dubliner whose subject was Economic and Social History. They married in 1965 and subsequently secured lectureships at Queen’s in their respective disciplines.

The Department of Scholastic Philosophy, a product of the North’s Kulturkampf, had been established at the insistence of the Catholic bishops. In the 1970s, it was an extraordinarily stimulating environment. For some of those who taught and studied there, the multifaceted conflict gathering momentum in Belfast provided an edge of urgency to the task of thinking.

Convinced, with Marx, that “until now, the philosophers have only interpreted reality; the point is to change it”, James sought to connect the philosophy lecture-theatre with the war-torn streets of Belfast. A socialist in the tradition of Connolly, he believed in the cause of Ireland, the cause of labour, and the inseparability of the two. He decried the injustice of partition. With Miriam, he became a founder member of the IRSP.

The price they paid for their activism was high indeed. In 1980, intruders broke into their home. Miriam was tied up and, after some hours, shot dead in the hall. No-one was ever charged with her murder.

Dazed and sick with grief, and fearful for his own life, James was left single-handedly to guide his twin boy and girl, then aged ten, through adolescence. This he did with exemplary courage and dedication; both Marie and Donal now attest that he was a great father.

James had a mind that was commanding and distinctive. Enormously well-read in the ancient, medieval and modern periods, his tendency was always to push towards synthesis, rather than to remain in the minutiae of historical scholarship. The objective of his two published books (the second of which, Deals and Ideals, was warmly received by Alasdair McIntyre) was to rescue Marx from some of his interpreters, particularly those who attributed to him a materialist view of man.

Although accepting Marx’s critique of the capitalist socio-economic system, James found support in Marx for his own belief that our life is spiritual. He never repudiated the Catholic faith of his upbringing; as he slipped into septic shock eight weeks ago in the Royal Victoria Hospital, he was praying the Our Father.

Witty, charming and profoundly courteous, James was also diffident and self-deprecating. To the people he was fond of he showed great warmth and affection. The lives of his family and friends, for whom he was a singularly dear and lovable human being, are immeasurably diminished by his loss.