Cardinal Cahal Daly, 92; led Irish Catholics amid Troubles

In 1995, Cardinal Daly greeted Protestant Boy Scout Simon Beckett, 15, before a Saint Patrick’s Day parade in Armagh, Northern Ireland, when Catholics and Protestants marched together. In 1995, Cardinal Daly greeted Protestant Boy Scout Simon Beckett, 15, before a Saint Patrick’s Day parade in Armagh, Northern Ireland, when Catholics and Protestants marched together. (Alastair Grant/Associated Press)
By Shawn Pogatchnik
Associated Press / January 1, 2010

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DUBLIN - Roman Catholic Cardinal Cahal Daly, a philosopher who led the church in Ireland during some of the worst years of IRA violence, has died at age 92, the church announced last night.

Tributes poured in from throughout Ireland and neighboring Britain attesting to the charm and formidable intellect of Cardinal Daly.

The elfin, razor-sharp County Antrim native was best known as a trenchant critic of the Irish Republican Army, the illegal paramilitary group rooted in Catholic areas that long sought to force Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom.

Cardinal Daly served as bishop of Down and Connor, which includes Belfast, from 1982 to 1990 and frequently used that pulpit to denounce the killings and policies of the IRA and its allied Sinn Fein party.

Cardinal Daly was widely credited with writing the key speech Pope John Paul II delivered during his visit to Ireland in 1979, when the pontiff appealed to the IRA to end its campaign. The underground army called a cease-fire in 1994, broke it in 1996, then restored it for good a year later.

“It’s plainly contradictory for the IRA to be committed to violence as a way forward and for Sinn Fein simultaneously to claim they are committed to the peace process,’’ Cardinal Daly said in 1996.

“And it would be insane to plunge this country again into the madness and agony of the last 25 years from which we so recently escaped.’’

In 1990, Cardinal Daly was appointed archbishop of Armagh, the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland, from where he served as the church’s leader in both parts of Ireland.

He was elevated to cardinal in 1991 and retired in 1996, but continued to write prolifically about ethics, ecumenism, and the threat of climate change.

His successor in Armagh, Archbishop Sean Brady, said family and friends surrounded Cardinal Daly as he died in Belfast’s City Hospital four days after he was admitted for heart problems.

Prime Minister Brian Cowen of Ireland praised Cardinal Daly as “a man of great intellect and humanity’’ who “gave strong backing to the emerging peace process in Northern Ireland and determinedly used his influence in every way he could to bring about a peaceful solution.’’

The leader of the largest Protestant denomination in Northern Ireland, Presbyterian moderator Stafford Carson, said Cardinal Daly improved relations and cooperation between the British Protestant and Irish Catholic sides of society.

He said Cardinal Daly displayed rare sensitivity to Protestant fears and “a deep understanding of the essential part that Presbyterians have played in the history of our community.’’

And Tony Blair, former British prime minister, who helped to negotiate Northern Ireland’s Good Friday peace accord of 1998, said Cardinal Daly “made a significant contribution to delivering peace as he worked to break down barriers between communities.’’

“His life is a real and lasting example of effective religious leadership working to build peace and resolve conflict in the most challenging of circumstances,’’ Blair said.

The church said Cardinal Daly will be buried Tuesday in Armagh, southwest of Belfast, alongside his three predecessors as the Catholic primate of Ireland.