Daly, Edward Kevin (1933–2016), catholic bishop and social activist, was born in West Rock Nursing Home, Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal, on 5 December 1933, eldest of five children (two sons and three daughters) of Thomas Daly, shopkeeper, undertaker and farmer of Belleek, Co. Fermanagh, and his wife Susan (née Flood). Daly grew up in Belleek, where several relatives ran businesses including a hotel. Thomas Daly was an Irish Republican Army (IRA) veteran who spent some years in America after supporting the anti-Treaty IRA during the civil war, and a first cousin of Susan died on the same side in that conflict, but Daly recalled his parents as moderate nationalists. Edward Daly’s younger brother Tom was a prominent Nationalist Party and SDLP activist in Fermanagh-South Tyrone in the 1960s and 1970s, but left politics and Belleek because of personal difficulties.
EDUCATION AND EARLY PRIESTHOOD
Daly was educated at the two-room Commons National School in Belleek and as a scholarship boy and boarder at St Columb’s School, the Derry diocesan college in Derry city. (Attendance at the Clogher diocesan college would have required knowledge of the Irish language.) Daly is often cited as an example of a more confident catholic leadership class created by increased educational opportunities from the 1940s, and as bishop he used annual St Columb’s Past Pupils’ Union dinners to make speeches on the current situation. Daly studied for the priesthood at the Irish College in Rome; the atmosphere was freer than in Irish seminaries at the same period – he had found St Columb’s harsh and authoritarian – and he acquired a love for all things Italian. Daly was ordained a priest at Belleek on 16 March 1957 and assigned as a curate to Castlederg, Co. Tyrone (in the parish of Urney), where he worked hard as a fundraiser and organiser of amateur drama, raising money for a new school. For the first time he encountered Orange parades, which he considered an expression of the second-class status of local catholics. (Protestants were a small minority in Belleek, though he had protestant friends there.)
In May 1962 Daly was transferred to Derry city as a curate attached to St Eugene’s cathedral parish, with responsibility for the Bogside district. He was shocked by the living conditions of the inner-city parishioners. Shortly before his death he told an interviewer: ‘Houses were terribly overcrowded, with rooms full of beds. People cooked, ate, slept, brought up children all in the one room. How they did it, I don’t know. There was no privacy whatsoever – none. But they were happy people. They were hugely welcoming and every door was open’ (Derry Journal, 12 Aug. 2016). These conditions were attributable, to a considerable extent, to the unwillingness of Derry Corporation to assign council houses to catholics outside the South Ward (the Bogside and the slowly developing, poorly planned Creggan Estate) in order to maintain the gerrymander that ensured a unionist majority on the Corporation.
His fundraising efforts for the erection of St Columb’s Parish Hall earned Daly the nickname ‘Father Bingo’. It also earned him a conviction for illegal gambling, overturned on appeal. He subsequently organised pantomimes and amateur dramatic productions in the hall. These productions brought him into contact with the Church of Ireland Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Charles Tyndall, who became a friend and later co-operated in early ecumenical activities. In 1970 Daly co-founded the Colmcille Ladies’ Choir – ‘to help local women have a release from the drudgery of life in the 1970s’ (Derry Journal, 12 Aug. 2016) – which was still active forty-five years later, and in 1971 the ’71 Players, which became one of the leading amateur dramatic companies in Ireland, with Daly as producer for several plays. He became known to bands across Ireland and further afield, at one point unsuccessfully negotiating to bring the Beatles to Belfast, and was proud that he allowed local talents, such as the 1970 Eurovision winner Dana (Rosemary Brown, b.1951), to gain exposure as supporting acts.
Daly recalled that the Derry clergy, influenced by the social teaching of the Second Vatican Council, shared in the politicisation of catholic citizens in the late 1960s, driven by the limited and belated reforms of Terence O’Neill (qv) (whom Daly distrusted), the violent repression of civil rights demonstrations, and greater awareness of living conditions elsewhere through television. Daly spoke out against hooliganism and state repression as the Troubles developed, though he recalled that after police excesses, such as the fatal beating of Samuel Devenny in his home, ‘one was severely tempted to join the rioters rather than attempt to quell them’ (Campbell, 30). Although Daly was willing to work with security forces where necessary, he developed an abiding distrust of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) as sectarian and saw the British Army as ignorant and colonialist in their attitudes. At the same time, he was dismayed by developing paramilitary violence, and horrified to see the body of a fourteen-year-old girl killed by a high-velocity bullet.
On Bloody Sunday (30 January 1972) Daly was one of eight priests present in the Bogside during a banned civil rights march; he intended to visit elderly and isolated residents. As the British Army’s Parachute Regiment pursued ‘hooligans’ at the tail-end of the march, Daly was running beside Jackie Duddy, a seventeen-year-old textile worker who was the first marcher to die when he was shot in the courtyard of Rossville Flats. Daly initially took cover, then ran out to assist Duddy. After administering the last rites, Daly waved a white handkerchief as he led a group of men carrying the dying Duddy towards security force lines to seek assistance. The scene was captured by television cameras and press photographers; it became a defining image of the Troubles and ineradicably fixed Daly’s public image. (The handkerchief was left on Duddy’s corpse and reclaimed by his family; in 2022 it was held by the Museum of Free Derry.) The image was reproduced in innumerable print and film accounts of the Troubles and a mural of the scene, painted by the Bogside Artists in 1997, became a lasting memorial.
Daly remained close to the Duddy family; Duddy’s sister Kay recalled ‘it just meant the world to us that Jackie did not die on his own’ (Irish News, 9 Aug. 2016). As gunfire continued, Daly was interviewed by a television camera crew, then returned to the carnage, administering the last rites to dead and injured. When stopped by soldiers as he returned to the parochial house, he showed them the blood on his hands and clothing and said ‘Look what you’ve done’ (Campbell, 221). Daly always described the Bloody Sunday shootings, in which aimed paratrooper gunfire caused fourteen deaths (thirteen on the day, another four months later) and injured twelve other people, as official murder. After joining several other priests who had been present in issuing a statement denouncing the killings, Daly participated in RTÉ current affairs programmes about the events of that day. He then travelled to America at the request of the Irish government to inform the American public of his experiences. He appeared on television programmes, testified before a congressional committee on a subsequent visit in February 1973, and was dismayed at the wide credence given to British official claims that the deaths were the result of crossfire between paramilitaries and the British Army. (Daly testified, as had another priest, that an IRA gunman fired two or three pistol shots during the chaos, but this could not be classed as sustained crossfire.)
Daly was one of several priests to testify before the Widgery Tribunal into the killings (February–March 1972). He consistently denounced the ensuing Widgery Report (April 1972), which claimed that the soldiers, though sometimes reckless, generally acted in good faith, that there had been sustained crossfire and some of the victims might have been armed when shot.
The killings radicalised many nationalists in Derry and elsewhere, leading to increased IRA recruitment. Daly reacted differently; he later stated that the sight of deliberate killing crystallised his rejection of violence. He underwent an emotional crisis driven by his experiences, by a bout of hepatitis, and by seeing other priests, with whom he had formed an emotional bond through the Troubles, leaving to marry; he briefly considered leaving the priesthood himself.
BISHOP OF DERRY
In July 1973 Daly moved to Dublin to take up a role as catholic religious adviser to RTÉ. He appeared on numerous television programmes and acquired presentational techniques which served him well in later years; he also served briefly on the new Council of Priests and was startled by the hostility to the catholic church he encountered in some Dublin circles. In February 1974 it was announced that Daly had been appointed bishop of Derry in succession to the long-serving Neil Farren (1893–1980), becoming the youngest bishop in Ireland and one of the youngest in Europe when he was installed on 31 March. Daly assisted in the professionalisation of the church’s administrative apparatus, including the establishment of the Catholic Communications Office in 1975 and undertaking much of the preparatory work for the visit of Pope John Paul II to Ireland in 1979. Daly was seen as being on the liberal wing of the Irish church (though he made decidedly conservative statements on such issues as the use of sexually explicit material in televised AIDS awareness campaigns.) He was one of the delegation representing the bishops which gave evidence before the New Ireland Forum on 9 February 1984, stating that the catholic church disavowed any claim to dictate to the state but was entitled to express its views on social issues in pursuit of the common good. In his 2011 memoir, Daly expressed concern about what he saw as regression from Vatican II in such matters as the wider celebration of the older Latin form of the mass and suggested that the church might be healthier as a minority within Ireland. In the same publication he suggested that clerical celibacy should no longer be compulsory, drawing on his knowledge of effective priests who had left to marry and of potential priests deterred.
In his diocese Daly tried with mixed success to pursue such post-Vatican II initiatives as the reordering of churches and the creation of parish pastoral councils, but he saw himself primarily as a pastoral bishop, relying on personal contact. In contrast to previous twentieth-century Derry bishops, whose experience was educational rather than parochial and who believed they should maintain a professional aloofness, Daly was known and addressed as ‘Eddie’, and experienced a deep and draining emotional involvement with his people throughout the Troubles. Daly made a point of staying in each parish in the diocese for a week at a time on a five-year visitation cycle rather than confining himself to carefully rehearsed short annual visits to administer confirmation; these travels exposed him to annoyance, and occasional harassment, at security force checkpoints. In 1976 Daly and other church leaders, including his friend Robin Eames (b.1936, Church of Ireland bishop of Derry and Raphoe, 1975–80), led an unprecedented multi-denominational march of clerics across the city to protest against violence after a series of ‘tit-for-tat’ killings by loyalists and republicans.
Daly’s ecumenical activities led to personal friendship with Eames’s successor, James Mehaffey (1931–2020), bishop of Derry and Raphoe from 1980–2002. They participated jointly in numerous community events, including two peace tours of America (during one, an IRA sympathiser asked whether Daly had ever heard of Bloody Sunday). The two bishops received the Freedom of Derry City on 24 March 2015. In 1980 Daly and Mehaffey co-operated with the prominent businessman and community activist Paddy ‘Bogside’ Doherty (1926–2016) in establishing the Inner City Trust to promote redevelopment of the city centre; the Waterside Churches Trust developed as an offshoot, working for the religiously-mixed area on the east bank of the Foyle. Both bishops were supporters of Derry City FC.
Despite Daly’s condemnations of violence, many individuals north and south of the Border vaguely assumed that his association with Bloody Sunday meant he was an IRA sympathiser. His relations with the provisional republican movement and its leader in Derry, Martin McGuinness (1950–2017), were tense, with an additional edge because Daly’s well-known record made it difficult to dismiss him as a collaborator. Daly did meet republican leaders in April 1975 to arrange a (temporary) ceasefire but kept this secret until long afterwards because of possible loyalist reactions. Daly joined with Tomás Ó Fiaich (qv) to oppose the withdrawal of special category status from paramilitary prisoners, trying unsuccessfully to negotiate compromises before and during the 1980 and 1981 Maze hunger strikes. Privately, Daly believed hunger strikes were unjustifiable; this view, formed after meeting a hunger striker in prison some years earlier, reflected a spontaneous intuitive decision rather than detached deliberation. Daly also campaigned for the release of persons unjustly convicted of terrorist offences, particularly the ‘Birmingham Six’, convicted of the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings, in which twenty-one people were killed, on the basis of confession and forensic evidence adjudged in 1991 to be unsafe and unsatisfactory; one of the Six was Derry-born).
After Daly called for witnesses to the IRA murder of two soldiers near the cathedral in 1982 to give information to the RUC, Sinn Féin issued a statement asking whether he would give evidence against republicans (insinuating that he might breach the confessional seal). Daly replied by distinguishing between privileged information and information acquired as an ordinary citizen, and declared that when he witnessed murder on Bloody Sunday he testified about it under oath, and would do so again should he see another murder. After shots were fired over the coffins of deceased IRA men outside Derry churches, in 1986 Daly prohibited the celebration of requiem masses for such persons with the body present and the covering of coffins with the tricolour within the church. This led to tensions in other dioceses as well as Derry. In 1987 mourners threatened to leave coffins on the ground outside St Eugene’s Cathedral if they were not admitted on their terms; Daly was away from the diocese and the cathedral clergy admitted the coffins under protest.
Daly privately told Irish diplomats that he believed McGuinness was personally implicated in the 1987 murder of the informer Frank Hegarty, lured back to Derry after McGuinness personally guaranteed his safety. Daly was intrigued by the fact that McGuinness (unlike some other prominent republicans) remained a regular mass-goer. Daly’s oft-quoted statement at the 1990 funeral of the victim of an IRA ‘proxy bomb’ that the perpetrators might call themselves followers of Christ but were following Satan can be seen as a reference to McGuinness. At the same time, Daly defended church authorities against critics who claimed that the Troubles could be ended by excommunicating IRA members (though he stated in 1986 that they had effectively excommunicated themselves); Daly personally believed that ‘communication is better than excommunication’ (Irish Times, 9 Aug. 2016). Daly took his political lead from John Hume (1937–2020), whom he greatly admired for his courage and commitment and believed was a victim of unfair criticism from those who did not understand his situation, and whose willingness to negotiate with Sinn Féin he cautiously endorsed. Daly met McGuinness in the early 1990s in connection with the peace process. They argued over Daly’s view that the armed struggle was unjustifiable, and while maintaining his own views Daly decided that McGuinness had arrived at his attitude after conscientious reflection. In later years Daly believed that McGuinness’s role in the Northern Ireland compromise reflected a genuine change of heart and said that he had a grudging respect for him as a father, husband and man of ability; when Daly died McGuinness expressed gratitude for his personal support during the peace process.
RETIREMENT AND FINAL YEARS
Daly was considered as a possible archbishop of Armagh after the death of Ó Fiaich in 1990, but was passed over not only because of his close identification with Derry but because of recurrent health problems. Daly’s left kidney had been removed in 1977 due to a malignant tumour, and in 1993 he suffered a stroke which temporarily deprived him of the ability to speak or move his right arm. Daly had already let it be known privately in 1992 that he was suffering emotional burnout and wished to step down and return to parish work. Although he recovered with the aid of physiotherapy, Daly decided that he was no longer equal to the physical demands placed on a diocesan bishop and retired. He served as diocesan archivist, co-authoring with Fr Kieran Devlin a historical index of the catholic clergy of the diocese and contributing a chapter on the Troubles period to Henry Jeffries and Kieran Devlin (eds) History of the Diocese of Derry from earliest times (2000); because of public sensitivity he retained copies of all his sermons, which he placed in the archive. In 1994 he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Ulster.
Daly’s primary pastoral role after retirement was as a chaplain in the non-denominational Foyle Hospice (founded by Dr Tom McGinley in 1983 with the assistance of the two bishops). He stated that he found this his most fulfilling role, and he was assisted in counselling the dying by his own fragility. In 1999 a tumour was removed from one of his lungs. In 2004 he published a pamphlet titled Do not let your hearts be troubled: ministry to the dying.
On 6 February 2001, Daly gave evidence before the Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday, dismissing as ‘offensive nonsense’ a suggestion by counsel that gunmen killed on the day had been buried secretly. In June 2010 Saville reported that the Parachute Regiment had been unjustified in opening fire and that none of those killed or injured had done anything to justify their fate. Daly responded to these conclusions, and a public apology by Prime Minister David Cameron, by stating that a weight had been lifted from the city and its people.
Daly’s preparations for the Saville Tribunal triggered memories and he began writing an autobiography. In 2000 he published Mister, are you a priest?, describing his life up to his episcopal ordination. A troubled See (2011) covers his later career in a thematic manner. Both memoirs demonstrate the emotional openness which marked Daly’s whole career, and which made both books best-sellers. Daly was criticised in reports on clerical abuse for having moved offending priests in the 1970s rather than reporting them to the police; he apologised by explaining that he had been following standard practice at the time. In 2014, after the publication of an official report on historic physical abuse of children in Derry diocese orphanages run by the Sisters of Nazareth, Daly asked people to remember that the nuns had undertaken this work when no-one else would do it and with limited resources.
Daly was also involved in controversy (recapitulated in A troubled See) with several journalists and politicians over allegations that a Derry diocesan priest, Fr James Chesney, had been a senior local IRA member implicated in the 31 July 1972 Claudy car-bombings which killed nine civilians, and that church and state authorities had assisted him in avoiding arrest for fear of the social and political consequences of prosecuting him. Although Daly had not been bishop at the time, he had spoken to Chesney who did not conceal his IRA sympathies, but believed his denial of involvement.
Bishop Edward Daly died at Altnagelvin Hospital, Derry city on 8 August 2016, some days after breaking his hip in a fall; he had been suffering from cancer of the blood. The Irish News estimated that 25,000 people filed past his coffin in the cathedral in the days before his funeral and burial, which was attended by 3,000. Commentators remarked that this formed a sharp contrast with the overall unpopularity of the catholic church in Ireland due to recurrent scandals, and stated that he had done his best to live up to his motto, Pasce Oves Meas (‘Feed my sheep’) which was inscribed on his grave in the cathedral grounds.
After Daly’s death his family presented several items (including the stole he wore on Bloody Sunday, stained with Jackie Duddy’s blood) to the Museum of Free Derry. In February 2022 The white handkerchief, a play by Liam Campbell about Bloody Sunday with Barney Keenan as Daly, was staged in Derry. A ‘Garden of Reflection’ dedicated to his memory was opened at Glenfada Park in the Bogside, and in August 2022 a week-long exhibition of material relating to his life took place at the Cathedral Hall. He was played by Raymond Cullen in the 2002 film Bloody Sunday (dir. Paul Greengrass) and by Brian Devlin in Sunday (2002, dir. Charles McDougall).