Northern Ireland news

Seamus Mallon was a 'chieftain' who worked tirelessly for a 'brighter and more peaceful tomorrow'

SDLP colleagues carry the coffin of Seamus Mallon at his funeral in Mullaghbrack, Co Armagh. Picture by Hugh Russell

FORMER Stormont Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon has been remembered as a “chieftain” who worked tirelessly for a “brighter and more peaceful tomorrow”.

Mourners including Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill joined family members and friends at the Church of St James of Jerusalem in Mullaghbrack, Co Armagh yesterday for Requiem Mass and a celebration of the one-time Newry and Armagh MP's life.

Mr Mallon, widely regarded as key in formulating the Good Friday Agreement, died last Friday, aged 83, following a short illness.

He is survived by his only daughter Orla, son-in-law Mark and granddaughter Lara.

The former SDLP deputy leader was predeceased by his wife Gertrude in 2016.

His coffin was carried into the church by SDLP colleagues, past a guard of honour formed by members of Mullaghbrack's O'Donovan Rossa GAA club, of which Mr Mallon was president.

Mourners including Secretary of State Julian Smith, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, former First Minister Lord Trimble, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and his Fianna Fáil counterpart Michael Martin were welcomed by Father Michael Woods, Parish Priest of Tandragee.

He said there was great pride in the parish over the “enormous contribution” Mr Mallon made to peace and reconciliation in Ireland.

After readings by SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon and party stalwart Frank Feely, Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin described the Markethill man as a “committed Christian” who prayed daily in the words of the Lord's Prayer.

“In recent days many commentators have spoken of Seamus as a man of integrity and courage who was unafraid to speak up or call it as it was – even at great personal risk,” the All-Ireland Primate said.

“He has been described as fair and principled, and as always respectful of the rights of others.”

But Archbishop Martin also pointed to the family man and “people person”, who “enjoyed good company wherever he could find it”.

He recalled hearing Mr Mallon speak for the final time last September during the Kennedy Summer School in New Ross, Co Wexford.

“Despite being into his eighty-fourth year, his energy and determination for peace were undimmed and the audience knew that they were in the presence of greatness,” Dr Brady said.

“His wise words that evening seemed to resonate especially with the younger people there, and his address sparked a prolonged standing ovation.”

He described the former deputy first minister as “unequivocally anti-violence”.

“He empathised from his heart with all those who were suffering and his consistent condemnation of violence from whatever source often left him open to insult and unfair criticism,” Archbishop Martin said.

“But his principles, rooted in a strong faith and in an unstinting commitment to a culture of life, remained steadfast in face of such opposition.”

After the Mass, former secretary general to the President of Ireland, Tim O'Connor, a long-time friend of Mr Mallon, reflected on his life.

He recalled how politics often took precedence over his many other passions.

Mr O'Connor said the late Mr Mallon's “stellar” 20 years representing Newry and Armagh at Westminster meant he ranked alongside Daniel O'Connell and Charles Stewart Parnell as an “outstanding orator and parliamentarian”.

“Seamus Mallon was a giant of his time,” he said.

“That is why today, in this beautiful ceremony in this beautiful church, it is important that we take the opportunity to reflect on, and give thanks for, the sacrifice, endurance, courage and leadership of a man whose contribution has meant a better life and future for every single one of us on this island.”

The Mass ended with a rendition of The Bard of Armagh, a favourite of Mr Mallon's, sung by Joe Cullinane.

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