Primate: A Portrait of Cardinal Cahal Daly by Fr Billy Fitzgerald (Collins Fount, £4.99) Peter Stanford CARDINAL Cahal Daly came face-to-face with the destructive power of the IRA at an early age. His schoolteacher parents were living in Loughguile in the Glens of the north of Ireland with their infant son. Their rented home, the property of a wealthy Protestant wine merchant, stood in a courtyard, alongside the billet of the local garrison. One night in the dying days of English colonialism the IRA decided to burn the forces of law and order out of their warren and in the process torched the Daly home. Baby Cahal was woken in his cot in the upstairs nursery by one of the paramilitaries and carried to safety from the flames.
The incident, according to the cardinal's biographer Fr Billy Fitzgerald, is Cahal Daly's earliest memory. And there is a certain aptness in the fact since the IRA's campaign of violence that has plagued Ireland over the past quarter century has been a constant thorn in the side of this prelate's unceasing attempts to bring peace, reconciliation and prosperity to his homeland.
More than any other churchman in recent times, Cardinal Daly has squared up to the sectarian, religious and political issues confronting modem Ireland. He has carefully attempted to disentangle the twisted threads of political and spiritual nationalism that ha. blocked progress over "the not them question" for so long. While making it plain that the church regards Ireland as one in a spiritual sense, he has been at pains to work within the political status quo of a divided island. When head of the Belfast diocese throughout the 1980s, the cardinal pushed and prodded the British authorities into tackling longstanding housing and employment prejudice against local Catholics. Until such grievances were addressed. he rightly pointed out, the IRA would have a ready pool of discontented recruits in west Belfast and Derry.
The cardinal won the respect of ministers and leaders of bodies
like the Royal Ulster Constabulary noted for their overwhelming Unionism Cahal Daly has always been opposed to the misleading use of the tags Catholic and Protestant in a north of Ireland context. Yet at the same time he was able to stand up in public and criticise them, a delicate political tightrope to walk. His skill in doing so was rewarded belatedly, many would say when he was named primate of Ireland in 1990.
Fr Billy Fitzgerald. well known for his TV and radio work in Ireland, brings out in an immensely readable biography both Cardinal Daly's political acumen and his evident spirituality. The cardinal, in an age when clerics are keen to steal
politicians' clothes, has tremendous authority on both sides of the Irish Sea because he is so patently a man of God.
In time a full scale biography will be written of Cahal Daly, placing more emphasis on his theological genius and his deft touch in the corridors of power. In the meantime we should be grateful to Fr Fitzgerald for an entertaining account. The reader is left to rue the fact that Ireland's outstanding churchman of his generation had to wait until his 70s to be made primate, the post where his talents could serve his beloved Ireland best.