Northern Ireland news


Gerry Adams letter says IRA ceasefire not possible without Fr Alec Reid

Fr Alec Reid. Picture by Mal McCann

GERRY Adams wrote to the rector of Clonard Monastery on the eve of the IRA's 1994 ceasefire saying the "potentially historic opportunity" would not have been possible about without Fr Alec Reid.

The letter of August 30 from the then Sinn Féin president highlights the role the Redemptorist priests at the west Belfast monastery played in laying the foundations of the peace process, before it signs off with a jocular "Fr Alec for Pope!".

The correspondence is made public for the first time in an Irish language documentary by former BBC journalist Kevin Magee, broadcast tomorrow night.

TG4's Sagairt na Síochána reveals the roles played by three Redemptorist priests, who across more than a century, have been key figures in forging peace.

In addition to documenting the part Fr Reid played in nurturing the dialogue between Mr Adams and then SDLP leader John Hume, the programme also explores the peace-making contributions of fellow Redemptorists Archbishop Patrick Clune and Fr Ciarán O Callaghan.

During the War of Independence, Archbishop Clune was a secret intermediary between British Prime Minister Lloyd George and Sinn Féin leaders, including Michael Collins.

Archbishop Patrick Clune

The Co Clare-born priest came close to securing a truce in between the warring sides, only for his efforts to be thwarted by a British government demand that the IRA surrender its arms ahead of negotiations. A further six months of violent conflict took place before the signing of the Anglo Irish Agreement in December 1921, but the archbishop’s previous endeavours had helped lay the groundwork.

Some 100 years later, Dundalk-born Fr O’Callaghan continues the work of his predecessors, albeit against a less violent backdrop, by building bridges and promoting dialogue between opposing sides through the Clonard Peace Ministry.

The letter from Mr Adams to the then Clonard rector Fr Kevin Browne provides an insight into how significant Fr Reid was to securing the ceasefire.

Bik McFarlane, Martin McGuinness, Alex Maskey and Gerry Adams at the funeral of Fr Alec Reid at Clonard Monastery in west Belfast. Picture by Mal McCann

"Cupla focal gairid mar buíochas. Dia duit agus beatha, Fr. Browne," the then West Belfast MP wrote.

"Please excuse this scribbled effort of thanks to you and the entire Clonard community, from your fellow priests, the cooks, to the receptionists for all your help over this last years of the peace process.

"A special commendation from me for Fr Alec. Without him we would not be opening up this potentially historic opportunity."

Mr Adams goes on to say how Clonard has had a special significance for him since childhood and references the 'Reds', a nickname for the Redemptorist order.

"The road ahead will not be easy but I know that Clonard will continue to offer a sanctuary and a beacon for us all, Thank your predecesors (spelt wrong.) {sic} All your good rectors. Ádh mór oraibh. Na "Reds" Abú. Fr Alec for Pope! Go raibh maith agaibh go léir. Ádh mór. Gerry A."

Sagairt na Síochána includes contributions from former taoiseach Bertie Ahern, former President Mary McAleese, and one-time SDLP deputy leader Bríd Rodgers, among others.

:: Sagairt na Síochána (Priests of Peace) is broadcast on TG4 tomorrow at 9:30pm.

Journalist Kevin Magee (right) with former taoiseach Bertie Ahern

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