Seamus Mallon: Funeral mass remembers peacemaker

‘A kindly and attentive neighbour, a man of many talents who wasted none of them’

The coffin of Seamus Mallon is carried to Saint James of Jerusalem Church in Mullaghbrack, Co Armagh. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

The coffin of Seamus Mallon is carried to Saint James of Jerusalem Church in Mullaghbrack, Co Armagh. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

 

Seamus Mallon was a “peacemaker, a bridge builder, a leader, a statesman, and a faithful worker for the Kingdom of God”, the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, Eamon Martin, has told mourners at his funeral.

Mr Mallon, a former deputy first minister of Northern Ireland and deputy leader of the SDLP, died on Friday aged 83. He had been diagnosed with cancer late last year.

His friend and former secretary general to the president Tim O’Connor said Mr Mallon was “a giant of his time” who as a parliamentarian ranked alongside Daniel O’Connell and Charles Stewart Parnell.

Archbishop Eamon Martin said that to his dying day, Mr Mallon was “consistent in his dedication to a culture of life and peace, and he remained a man of hope for a brighter and more peaceful tomorrow – a shared and respectful future where everyone can experience a sense of belonging.

“A fitting tribute to the legacy of Seamus Mallon would be a renewed effort by all our political leaders and by all of us to build that “shared home place” which was Seamus’ vision and lifelong project,” he said.

Archbishop Martin, was the chief celebrant of the funeral Mass, which took place on Monday at Saint James of Jerusalem church in Mullaghbrack, near Mr Mallon’s native Markethill, the same church where Mr Mallon was baptised 83 years ago. Mass was concelebrated by the parish priest, Fr Michael Woods.

Guard of honour

Members of the local GAA club, O’Donovan Rossa Mullaghbrack, provided a guard of honour as Mr Mallon’s remains were carried into the church. The coffin was carried by, among others, a number of the SDLP’s elected representatives, including the current leader Colum Eastwood, and the former leader, Mark Durkan.

The mourners were led by Mr Mallon’s daughter, Orla, son-in-law Mark, granddaughter Lara and his sisters Maura, Jean and Kate.

Among those who attended were Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Tánaiste Simon Coveney, the North’s secretary of state Julian Smith and first and deputy first ministers Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill.

President Michael D Higgins was represented by his Aide de Camp, and the deputy lieutenant of Co Armagh represented Queen Elizabeth.

Former Stormont first minister David Trimble and his wife Daphne attend the funeral of Seamus Mallon. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Former Stormont first minister David Trimble and his wife Daphne attend the funeral of Seamus Mallon. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

The majority of the SDLP’s elected representatives and a number of party members and activists were present, including Pat Hume, the wife of the former SDLP leader and Nobel laureate John Hume, as well as Austin Currie, one of the co-founders of the SDLP, and former SDLP MPs Bríd Rodgers and Margaret Ritchie.

Seamus Mallon, 1936-2020

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Also present was David Trimble, the former Ulster Unionist party leader, and the current party leader Steve Aiken, as was the Alliance party leader, Naomi Long. Former taoisigh Enda Kenny and Bertie Ahern also attended, as did Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin, Fine Gael minister Joe McHugh, and the former tánaiste and European commissioner Ray McSharry.

The presence of so many people was, Fr Woods said as he welcomed the mourners to the church, “testament in itself to the impact of Seamus on the life of this island”.

It had been, he said, Mr Mallon’s personal wish that his funeral would take place “here in the Church in which so many sacred moments in his life and that of his family were marked and celebrated, including his own baptism over 83 years ago.

“We are very proud in this parish of the many achievements of Seamus Mallon and the enormous contribution he made to peace and reconciliation on our island.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar attends the funeral of Seamus Mallon. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar attends the funeral of Seamus Mallon. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

‘Vocation of service’

During the homily, Archbishop Martin described Mr Mallon was “a loving father, husband, brother and grandfather.

“Here was a dedicated Catholic school teacher and principal, a kindly and attentive neighbour, a man of many talents who wasted none of them.

“Here was a wholesome human being who spent himself unselfishly for his family, his local community, his country and for the common good.”

He was, Archbishop Martin said, “of someone who gives their life in a vocation of service”.

“Seamus certainly took time for healing, time for building up, time for gathering, time for planting.

“He made time for mourning, but also for laughing and for dancing; but he had no time for tearing down, or giving up; he had no time for hate, no time for war.”

Archbishop Martin made reference to how, in recent days, “many commentators have spoken of Seamus as a man of integrity and courage who was unafraid to speak up or call it as it was – even at great personal risk.

“He has been described as fair and principled, and as always respectful of the rights of others.

“Visitors to his wake have shared stories of his astute leadership and tough negotiating skills, and also of his “stubborn” determination and no-nonsense directness at times.

“But many others, who have known Seamus in a personal way, have spoken of him as a devoted father, grandfather, brother, and as a faithful friend.

“Seamus was a ‘people person’, through and through, and whether he was with presidents, prime ministers, party colleagues, or his own good neighbours and friends here in Markethill, he was the same Seamus.”

Yet he was also, Archbishop Martin said, someone who “spoke with the authority and vision that come from having lived through the worst of the Troubles and personally played a central role in the landmark events of our Peace Process.”

The gifts which were brought to the altar included a copy of Mr Mallon’s autobiography, A Shared Home Place, his maiden speech in the House of Commons, and a photograph of him with Pope John Paul II, as well as a fishing reel and some Rosapenna golf balls, representing his love of golf and fishing.

His granddaughter Lara Lenny prayed that “the children in this country may be free to be friends with all”.

Following the funeral Mass Mr Mallon’s remains were taken to the cemetery in the church grounds at Mullaghbrack for burial.