Northern Ireland news

Bishop James Mehaffey remembered as 'embodiment of peace, partnership and reconciliation'

Dr Mehaffey and his wife Thelma became close friends of the late Bishop Edward Daly. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Seamus McKinney

FORMER Church of Ireland Bishop of Derry and Raphoe James Mehaffey has been described as “the embodiment of peace, partnership and reconciliation”.

Dr Mehaffey (88), who died on Monday evening, served as bishop through some of the worst days of the Troubles from 1980 until his retirement in 2002.

Through his close personal friendship with the late Edward Daly, the Catholic Bishop of Derry, he helped establish a number of bridge-building initiatives in the city.

These included the Inner City Trust which provided youth training by redeveloping bombed-out buildings.

The two Church leaders worked together to promote reconciliation, often issuing joint statements, undertaking foreign trips together and leading ecumenical services.

In 2015, they were given the freedom of Derry in recognition of their years of service.

Dr Mehaffey’s funeral will take place at St Columb’s Cathedral in Derry on Saturday.

A spokesman for the Derry and Raphoe diocese said a service of thanksgiving for his life would begin at 2pm.

The family has invited anyone wishing to pay their respects in advance of his funeral to call at the family home, 10 Clearwater, Derry, between 11am and 11pm.

The former Church leader will be cremated in Belfast next Monday.

A native of Co Armagh, Dr Mehaffey was educated at Trinity College Dublin and ordained a priest in 1955.

He served in parishes in Belfast, Kilkeel, Cregagh and Deptford before his appointment as Bishop of Derry and Raphoe in succession to Dr Robin Eames in 1980.

Speaking on behalf of her husband, former SDLP leader John Hume, and family, Pat Hume said Bishop Mehaffey was a man of wise counsel, Christian courtesy and civic care throughout his ministry.

Mrs Hume said: “Through his friendship with Dr Edward Daly, they both were the embodiment of peace, partnership and reconciliation on this island. Indeed, he worked with John throughout some of our city and country’s darkest days but never gave up on finding a better way for our traditions and people to live side by side in peace.”

Former Archbishop of Armagh Lord Eames said Dr Mehaffey was a “man of great hope” who would be missed.

Newly appointed Bishop of Derry and Raphoe Andrew Forster said: “He was a towering figure within the diocese of Derry and Raphoe in particular and the Church of Ireland generally."

The head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin, said Bishop Mehaffey, with Bishop Daly, built bridges and made a “real difference”.

He said: "Thanks for his warmth and kindness and the powerful and courageous witness of his cooperation and rapport with Bishop Daly during troubled times.”

Catholic Bishop of Derry Donal McKeown also paid tribute, saying that Dr Mehaffey with Bishop Daly gave witness to a “powerful message of harmony and peace building”.

Tributes were also paid by political leaders. SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the former Church leader’s ministry was a constant source of hope.

“His work as a founding member of the Inner City Trust will leave a lasting legacy on this city and helped, in the midst of immense destruction, to heal the scars of conflict."

Sinn Féin assembly member Raymond McCartney also described Bishop Mehaffey as a “gracious pastoral leader”, while DUP East Derry MP Gregory Campbell said he was a "genuine man who worked tirelessly for his community during very difficult days".

"He was not afraid to call out evil when he needed to but he was prepared to work for peace with his neighbours when the time was right," Mr Campbell said.

A book of condolences has been opened at Derry’s Guildhall.

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