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Life-size wooden statues honour peacemaker Fr Alec Reid

The wooden carving of Fr Alec Reid is inspired by a photograph of him giving the Last Rites to a British soldier in 1988. Picture by Bridget Delaney
Marie Louise McConville

THE "spirit and soul" of a Redemptorist priest described as one of the architects of the peace process has been captured in a set of life-size wooden carvings inspired by a Troubles photograph.

Fr Alec Reid, who undertook a 40-year ministry at Clonard Monastery in west Belfast, died in November 2013.

He secretly acted as a conduit between the republican movement and SDLP during efforts to bring about an IRA ceasefire.

The cleric was also one of the witnesses who confirmed the decommissioning of IRA weapons and worked behind the scenes to try to persuade the IRA to provide more information on the bodies of the 'Disappeared'.

Read More: Gerry Adams says dialogue with Fr Alec Reid began in 1977

Born in Dublin, Fr Reid moved to Nenagh in Co Tipperary as a young boy with his family following the death of his father.

Wood sculptor Paradzai Havatitye, who is originally from Zimbabwe but has lived in Roscrea for the past 20 years, was asked by the Nenagh parish to carve three life-size statues.

During 2018 a parish mission used as its theme Pope Francis's call for families to say ‘Please, thank you and I’m sorry’ and the carvings celebrate people with links to Nenagh who have lived out those words in their calling as Christians.

Fr Alec Reid was based at Clonard Monastery for four decades. Picture by Niall Carson

Selected to represent 'Please' was Sr Bernard Quigley, a Sister of Mercy, who devoted her time to caring for those on the margins of society. The statue also acknowledges the work of all those who serve as part of an order.

The `Thank You' statue was created in memory of Fr Dan Fitzgerald, an Irish Columban missionary, as well as acknowledging all missionaries from north Tipperary.

Fr Alec Reid was chosen to represent `I'm Sorry', in recognition of his role in bringing about reconciliation through his ministry as a peacemaker.

Read More: Meeting between Ian Paisley and Fr Alec Reid `was recorded' says son

In this case, the sculptor took inspiration from a photograph of Fr Reid giving the Last Rites to a British soldier who had been killed in west Belfast in 1988.

Corporals David Howes and Derek Wood were beaten and shot after driving into the funeral cortege of a man killed by loyalist Michael Stone in a gun and grenade attack in Milltown Cemetery, during the funerals of three IRA members shot dead by the SAS in Gibraltar.

In Fr Reid's pocket at the time was a letter from Sinn Féin to the SDLP which became stained with blood.

The life-sized statues are now on display at St Mary of the Rosary Church in Nenagh.

Parish priest Fr Des Hillery said Fr Reid was chosen because of the "tremendous work that he did for all of us on the island", adding that his home parish wanted to honour the "gift he has given us, peace".

"It's based on the famous photo of 1988," said Fr Hillery.

"It really is a moment of realisation when you look at it. It led to such a great turnaround in events."

Fr Hillery said the carvings had been "very well received", adding that it had brought "the story of Fr Alec and reconciliation" very much to the fore.

"It has asked us all to stop for a moment and just don't take the peace for granted," he said.

"That it came out of a huge process of efforts that Fr Alec was part of."

When asked if the artwork would ever travel north, Fr Hillery said: "Certainly, if anybody wanted to borrow it, they would be welcome as long as they bring it back. It's a cherished piece for us."

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