Northern Ireland news

Tributes to Canon Bernard Magee who lived last 40 years with bullet lodged in his head

Canon Bernard Magee, who died on Thursday
Marie Louise McConville

A priest who lived the last 40 years of his life with a bullet lodged in his head after being shot during the Troubles has died aged 94.

Canon Bernard Magee, who had retired to Castlewellan parish in Co Down, died peacefully on Thursday at Nazareth Care Village in Belfast.

Originally from St Peter's parish in the city, Canon Magee attended St Malachy’s College and trained as a priest at St Malachy's Seminary and St Patrick's Pontifical College in Maynooth.

Ordained in 1950, he worked across the Down and Connor diocese, starting as chaplain in Nazareth House in Belfast before moving to Castlewellan as a curate.

He then became curate in Lisburn before taking on the same role at St Patrick's in Donegall Street in Belfast city centre.

It was during this period that Canon Magee found himself ministering to victims of the McGurk's Bar bombing in December 1971, which claimed 15 lives.

In 1974, he experienced his own personal trauma when he was shot in the grounds of St Colmcille's Church in Ballyhackamore.

On the night of September 26, he was standing talking to a friend when a gunman opened fire.

He was shot in the head and leg while his friend was struck in the abdomen.

He was taken to the Ulster Hospital where he underwent a four-hour operation. A titanium plate was later fitted to the top of his skull.

Canon Magee lived the rest of his life with the bullet lodged in his head.

After serving several years as administrator of St Patrick's, he moved in 1981 to Loughinisland, Co Down where he would serve as parish priest for almost two decades.

The Troubles again cast their shadow over his time there, with a loyalist gun attack on the Heights Bar killing six people in June 1994.

Religious affairs journalist Martin O'Brien described Canon Magee as a "truly devoted pastor and much loved priest".

"He was first and foremost a humble and devoted servant, utterly dedicated to his parishioners," he said.

"At a personal level, he was a gentle, gracious and courteous soul who loved people and was loved in turn by his parishioners and those he encountered.

"What struck me deeply in recent years was how he continued to celebrate Mass even when he was extremely infirm and almost blind, reciting the words of the Mass from memory."

Requiem Mass for Canon Magee will be celebrated on Monday at noon at St Malachy's Church in Castlewellan.

Burial will take place afterwards in St McCartan's Cemetery in Loughinisland.

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