Fr Alec Reid welcomed back to west Belfast
‘We owe him a great debt of gratitude’
The reamins of Fr Alec Reid during his funeral Mass at the Marianella Chapel Orwel Road, Dublin. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Tipperary man Fr Alec Reid arrived back in his adopted home of west Belfast a few minutes before 4pm yesterday, the bells of Clonard Monastery tolling in reception, his fellow Redemptorists there to greet his coffin which was placed open beneath the main altar.
He lay in repose, rosary beads wrapped around his fingers, a picture of Pope Francis under his clasped hands.
North Belfast woman Stella Hunt travelled across the busy city – earlier the scene of a big bomb alert but not like the very bad days – to pay her respects.
She was 16 when the Troubles started and grew up through the conflict. She wanted to say thanks.
“Belfast was a very difficult place to live in, so the fact that we have peace and that my children can go out and I am not afraid of them being shot or being blown up is great – and he contributed to that,” said Ms Hunt.
Clonard rector Fr Michael Murtagh recalled the end of the first IRA ceasefire in 1996 and the terrible feeling of despair at the time.
He had a sermon prepared but when word of the IRA London Docklands bombing broke he had to change his homily.
He met Fr Reid on the stairs: “I could see the sadness in his eyes. I said, ‘Fr Al, what will I say now?’ Fr Al said, ‘Ask the people to pray’. That was a very simple but very deep expression of his total life.”
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams arrived back from the Dublin Mass for Fr Reid with his wife Colette to catch the end of the service, and to join Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness who had arrived earlier.
“He was someone who transformed this place,” said Mr McGuinness.
Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Belfast Máirtín Ó Muilleoir recalled 1988 when he was first elected to the council: “I thought then we were locked in a never-ending cycle of conflict and violence and war. Thank God for people like him that had a higher calling and a higher vision than us.”
An ecumenical service of gratitude for Fr Reid’s life will take place in Clonard church at 7.30pm today.
His funeral Mass is at noon tomorrow, with burial in the Redemptorist plot in Milltown Cemetery.