Bishop Séamus Hegarty had deep commitment to Irish emigrants, funeral told

Retired Bishop of Derry had ‘asked for forgiveness from those who suffered cruelly’

Former Bishop of Raphoe, Bishop Séamus Hegarty was born in Kilcar, Co Donegal. He became Bishop of Derry in 1994 and retired due to ill-health in November 2011. File photograph: David Sleator

Much of the person who the late Bishop Séamus Hegarty (79) was “ebbed away over the last eight years since he was forced to retire as Bishop of Derry” because of ill-health, his funeral Mass was told on Monday.

“Dementia in its various forms is a cruel affliction,” Bishop of Derry Donal McKeown said.

"While Irish was his first language he was blessed with a real grá for other languages, and an openness to exploring the centuries-old links between Irish people and Europe, " the bishop said.

Former Bishop of Raphoe, Bishop Hegarty was born in Kilcar, Co Donegal. He became Bishop of Derry in 1994 and retired due to ill-health in November 2011.


“These were very challenging years North and South, partly connected with the Troubles, where – like many church people – he used all possible channels to stop killing and to build bridges,” Bishop McKeown said.

“But those years were also heavily marked by the revelations of child sexual abuse. Terrible crimes had been inflicted on young people across this country and around the world – and, for a range of reasons, grave errors were made in responding to the wave of allegations. That has all left a legacy of pain, alienation and mistrust,” he said. The dioceses of Raphoe and Derry “were no different from anywhere else,” he added.

Bishop Hegarty also had “a deep sense of commitment to Irish emigrants. Many had to leave this island because of unemployment and other reasons. Some ended up in dire poverty abroad and he worked tirelessly to support the emigrant chaplaincies around the world.

Passion for education

“He had a passion for education and many of the excellent schools in Derry diocese were built in his time. From personal experience, he knew how fragile and precious human life is and was very strongly committed to the pro-life movement,” recalled Bishop McKeown.

Commenting at the weekend on Bishop Hegarty’s death, current Bishop of Raphoe Alan McGuckian said “his ministry as bishop was deeply challenged. During those years there was the tragedy of serious crimes of child sexual abuse perpetrated by priests in the diocese.

“Bishop Hegarty was challenged about his management of those situations. Addressing failures on his own part, Bishop Hegarty asked for forgiveness from those who suffered cruelly. Following his resignation in 2011 on grounds of ill-health, he stated, ‘I am deeply sorry that anyone was hurt through my management of allegations historically’.”

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times