Minister, language scholar and radical political activist

Terence McCaughey: April 17th, 1932 - February 9th, 2016

Terence McCaughey: a keen consciousness of human imperfection and a sense of self-deprecating fun

Terence McCaughey: a keen consciousness of human imperfection and a sense of self-deprecating fun

 

Terence McCaughey, who has died aged 83, was a clergyman, an academic, an inveterate campaigner for progressive causes and a man of many parts whose range of interests never failed to astonish his friends throughout his long life.

He is probably best known for his lengthy period in the leadership of the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement, in which he served as president. The group brought together people from all points of the political compass, united by revulsion at the refusal of democratic rights to people because of the colour of their skin. McCaughey’s role was crucial, though he preferred to let Kader Asmal, later a minister in a post-apartheid South African government, be the face and voice of the campaign.

His breadth of vision was remarkable, a close observer, the journalist John Horgan, remembers. And this was nowhere more evident than in his involvement in the movement and in the many friends he made within it, who were the beneficiaries of his extraordinarily wise tactical advice in frequently difficult situations.

Political activism

Northern Ireland Civil Rights AssociationDublin Housing Action Committee

As a young man in his native city, his strongly held Christian principles of social justice prompted him to protest against sectarianism, organising relief for Catholics burned out of their homes by loyalist gangs in 1969. He denounced the activities of some members of the Orange Order and was booed at the general assembly in 1969 for resisting a motion in support of the Stormont government and the RUC.

McCaughey was often out of step with many of his co-religionists, while being firmly in the ecumenical mainstream as regards other religions. But he continued to speak up within his church for the values which he saw as core to the faith which it and he professed.

He memorably championed holding the Presbyterian general assembly in Dublin rather than Belfast, and insisted that the Irish national anthem should be sung there rather than God Save the Queen.

Terence Patrick McCaughey was born in Belfast in 1932, the youngest of six children of John McCaughey, a grain merchant, and his wife, Lizzie Finnegan, who had abandoned studying medicine to marry.

Ted Hughes

In 1955 he went to the department of Celtic studies at Edinburgh University, and spent two years there as a junior lecturer, becoming a field researcher for the Linguistic Survey of Scotland (which mapped the country’s dialects). In 1962 he graduated in divinity from New College in Edinburgh, and then spent two years as a minister’s assistant in that city.

In Edinburgh and while doing field work around the highlands and islands of Scotland, he learned Scots Gaelic.

In Edinburgh too, he met fellow academic Ohna McDonald from Skye, and they married in 1965. Around that time he spent a summer with a family in the Donegal Gaeltacht learning Irish. In 1964 he joined the school of Irish at Trinity College Dublin as a lecturer, and was appointed Presbyterian chaplain to the university. He also became chaplain to Mountjoy prison.

In Dublin he and his wife raised their family of four children. And thus followed a lifetime of social concern and international activism. Throughout his long life his love of the Irish language, of Donegal, and of his church were all leavened by a keen consciousness of human imperfection and by a sense of humour and of self-deprecating fun that according to his many friends always made conversation with him memorable.

He is survived by Ohna and his children Mary (Marcoux), Kevin, Sorley and Patsy.

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