By Sarah Mac Donald - 25 March, 2015
In one of its last official acts before its amalgamation with Strabane District Council, Derry City Council conferred the Freedom of the City on Bishop Edward Daly and Bishop James Mehaffey.
Both the Primate of All Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin, who is from Derry, and Bishop Donal McKeown, the current bishop of Derry, expressed their warm congratulations to Dr Daly and his Church of Ireland counterpart.
Archbishop Martin warmly congratulated Bishop Edward Daly and Bishop James Mehaffey on their “extraordinary civic achievement”.
The Primate said this “special accolade” was a fitting tribute to their Christian ministry and leadership.
“It is also appropriate that this honour is being conferred on both men at the same time because for many years they have worked hard to build bridges in the City and, in doing so, together they both made a tangible difference to the lives of the people of Derry and beyond.”
In some personal words for Bishop Daly, Archbishop Martin noted that although he was born in Beleek, Co Fermanagh, the people and the city of Derry hold a special place in Bishop Daly’s heart.
“Since boarding in St Columb’s College in the 1940s, the lion’s share of his exemplary life and ministry has been spent serving the people of Derry.”
He added that the conferral of the Freedom of the City was a timely acknowledgement of his contribution to improving the lives of those on the margins of society.
“On a personal level, I remember Bishop Eddie as the man who ordained me to the priesthood in 1987, and who offered me great pastoral guidance in my first appointment as a curate in the Cathedral Parish in Derry and thereafter.”
In his message, Bishop Donal McKeown described the two retired bishops as “two courageous figures who took huge risks for peace in the most difficult years of the Troubles”.
“Their dogged work in public and in private were signs of hope at a time when there was little or no political engagement. They – and other lesser known figures across Church and civic society – laid the ground for the later agreements.”
He said that in a city marked by death and confrontation, “they burned brightly themselves as beacons of hope”.
He concluded by saying that, “Nearly fifty years after the conflict erupted in Derry City, it is wonderful that the work of these two remarkable men is being recognised by a city where both of them are remembered with great love and admiration.”
In his acceptance speech on Tuesday evening, Bishop Daly said it was a wonderful honour.
“I am hugely pleased to accept it particularly when it is being shared with my friend and brother, Bishop James. It is enhanced by the fact that the honour is conferred by the elected representatives of our fellow citizens.”
Noting that the last two people to be given the freedom of the city were John Hume and Dr Tom McGinley, he said he was honoured and humbled to follow in their “giant footsteps”.
“Bishop James and I always had as our priority our ministry to our respective flocks. But we also believed we should give witness to the power of Christian friendship, that we should demonstrate the benefits of sharing rather than dividing and be symbols of unity rather than division,” he explained.
He said an example was how, in 1980, along with Paddy Doherty, they were involved in founding the Inner City Trust which involved hundreds of disadvantaged young people in construction, “offering them their rightful dignity and giving them a sense of ownership of their own city centre”.
From the Inner City Trust, the Waterside Churches Trust came into being.
Then in 1983, they were both involved with Dr Tom McGinley in the initial public meeting and foundation of the Foyle Hospice.
“Both the Inner Trust and the Foyle Hospice have been wonderful examples of the power of positive influences in our city, positive influences of true Christianity at work, positive influences in the importance of giving their rightful dignity to every human being,” Dr Daly said.
Both organisations are still going strong and continue to do great work.
He recalled the two week long series of the Two Cathedrals Festival which began in the late 1980s which was another joint initiative in which, despite the surrounding tensions, the two cathedral congregations along with others, prayed together, sang together and enjoyed beautiful music together and on an evening during the Christmas season each year processed from one cathedral to the other through the city centre.
“Inter-Church dialogue and Church leadership here in the 1970s and 1980s was not just ‘nice people talking to nice people about nice things,” Bishop Daly stated.
“It involved getting one’s hands dirty, it meant talking honestly and bluntly, confronting difficult issues, making difficult decisions, speaking one’s mind, and being mature enough to reach a Christian resolution. It meant, sometimes, in the memorable words of Paddy Doherty, ‘seeking forgiveness rather than seeking permission’. It meant sometimes agreeing to disagree.”
He paid tribute to Derry City Council saying that in its 42 years of life it had set an excellent example of what co-operation can achieve and he expressed the hope that the same co-operation would continue in the new council formation due to come into being in April.
“The past 53 years have been for me an incredible experience – I greatly enjoyed the pastoral and cultural involvement of the early years of ministry here – I was shocked and terrified during the years of conflict; those years provided me with great challenges that I found daunting and, sometimes shocking; sometimes terrifying; and then, for the last 21 years, I have served in the hospice – those years spent in that remarkable place have formed an edifying and life-enhancing experience and gave me a new sense of the precious and unique nature of every human life.”
Noting how the economic circumstances of the people of the city had improved over the past decades, Bishop Daly regretted that there are still “unacceptable levels of unemployment”.
“The campaign for a university worthy of this ancient city must be sustained and the road and rail connections must be improved as part of the fundamental answer to this problem,” he stated.
“My experience here over five decades has convinced me of one thing above all others – that we can do much more together than we can do apart.”
He said difference should be seen as enriching rather than threatening. “There is a rich tapestry of cultures here – and each of them has made an important contribution to who we are and what we are and each should be cherished by us all.”
Concluding, he said he treasured his faith and its values as Bishop James treasures his. “We learned to share rather than impose, to tolerate rather than to squabble, above all, we learned to respect rather than distrust.”
“If that can be achieved in the midst of bitter conflict, surely it can be achieved at any time,” Dr Daly suggested.
Bishop Edward Daly is Bishop Emeritus of Derry. He studied at the Irish College in Rome and was ordained to the priesthood on 16 March 1957.
He was a curate in the parish of St Eugene’s Cathedral in Derry, which includes the Bogside area of the city, during The Troubles.
Dr Daly was ordained Bishop of Derry in 1974 and retired in 1993 due to ill health, and subsequently took up a post as chaplain to Foyle Hospice.
As an author, Bishop Daly has published Mister, Are you a Priest?; Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled; and was co-author of The Clergy of the Diocese of Derry: an Index, and has contributed to A History of the Diocese of Derry.