A great man has fallen

Born on August 5, 1931, in Dublin, Fr Alec Reid was baptised into the Body of Christ in his local Catholic parish. After the death of his father the family moved to Nenagh, Co. Tipperary where he went to school. A skilled young hurler, he gained a place in the Tipperary minor team. In autumn 1949 he joined the Redemptorist Congregation and was formed in our way of discipleship through the noviciate at St Joseph’s, Dundalk, and in the student house at Cluain Mhuire, Galway where he was ordained on September 22, 1957. He gained an honours arts degree in University College Galway (UCG), the alma mater that in 1998 honoured him in recognition of his peace work.

His ministry in Clonard Monastery, Belfast, began in the early 1960s at the time when Blessed Pope John XXIII was transforming the Catholic Church. It was the era when, so the story goes, a Belfast Orangeman was heard to say: “I’ve got to watch myself, for I’m beginning to like that wee man in the Vatican!” Fr Alec saw the flag on Belfast City Hall fly at half-mast to honour John XXIII’s passing in July 1963. That was unimaginable when the Troubles began, but for Fr Alec, by the grace of God, it was always possible again.

Travellers’ priest

To enhance his ministry he took a course in media studies at the newly-established Catholic Communication Centre on Booterstown Avenue in Dublin. This led to him writing for the press and involvement in radio and television programmes.

He took part in the early beginnings of ecumenical contact between the clergy of the different Christian Churches in Belfast. Working with a Legion of Mary praesidium of teachers he set up the first Belfast school for the children of Travellers and became recognised as the Travellers’ priest.

The Troubles

When the Troubles in Belfast erupted around Clonard Monastery in August 1969 with the burning by Loyalists of Catholic homes on Bombay Street, Fr Alec’s life was changed forever. With many other priests and ministers he was helping traumatised people find safe lodging and a renewal of hope. The Troubles escalated with bombings, peace walls and the separation of people on ethnic lines. There were assassinations by Republicans and Loyalists and even by some elements of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and the British Army. There were long prison sentences and hunger strikes and bewilderment among people on both sides of the sectarian divide.


Through the 1970s and 1980s many others were searching for the way to peace. Fr Alec saw himself as representing “the next person to be killed”. So he set out to persuade Irish Republicans that there was an alternative to armed struggle. He told them that killing would never change the political situation.

What would bring about change was an alliance of all representatives of nationalist Ireland agreed on a political and diplomatic way forward. His manifold endeavours over many years helped to bring about the day of destiny in early September 1994 when Albert Reynolds, as Taoiseach, received John Hume and Gerry Adams on the steps of Leinster House.


The people of Belfast and beyond are mourning for Fr Alec, Lord Mayor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir has opened a Book of Condolence at Belfast City Hall.

The words of the Scriptures seem very appropriate: “And the king said to his servants, ‘Do you not know that a prince and a great man has fallen this day in Israel.” (II Samuel 3.38)

Fr Gerry Reynolds CSsR is based at Clonard Monastery in Belfast and worked closely with Fr Alec Reid in peacebuilding.