Risking it all for the sake of peace

Archbishop Robin Eames remembers Albert Reynolds as a ‘peacemaker’

We recall the lives of people we meet in life’s journey for many different reasons.

We recall their character or the impression they have made on us. We remember the circumstances in which our paths crossed. Then there are memories based on events which brought people together because of the opportunities to help or influence the lives of others.

My memories of Albert Reynolds are a combination of all these.

The 1990s were years of sadness and suffering for many families in Northern Ireland. For both Catholics and Protestants the Troubles had inflicted loss and genuine fear on homes and loved ones.


As Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh I had been admitted to much of that suffering in my pastoral ministry. I had seen the scars violence inflicted on young and old. Together with successive Catholic Primates I had urged politicians and paramilitaries to find ways of bringing the mayhem to an end. Hope for both communities was in short supply. Clergy of all denominations faced constant pastoral demands as questions of life and death confronted everyday lives.

This was the tapestry which faced John Major, the British Prime Minister and Albert Reynolds, the Irish Taoiseach. Co-operation between them and their governments were essential if a political solution was to emerge.

All this background surrounded my first meeting with Albert Reynolds. How well I remember his first worlds to me: “Archbishop my priority is to find what I can do to end all this…”

That was my introduction to many conversations in Dublin and Armagh with a man who was to become a key player in our Peace Process. His political awareness and sensitivity, his basic knowledge of life in the North after years of business contacts, but above all else a determination to find a way forward out of the darkness which dominated Ireland in those days drove him on despite the burdens of the past failures to bring peace.

Only those privileged to be in contact with him could appreciate the full extent of that determination.

His belief that there was no such thing as obstacles which could not be overcome and a constant longing to see a new relationship of peace and co-operation between north and south came through in every conversation I had with him. The successful negotiation of the Downing Street Declaration was an event which could never have come about without him.

That declaration was to pave the way for the eventual cessation of both republican and loyalist armed conflict.

But it will be Albert’s basic humanity which I will always remember. He would ask me about the feelings of ordinary people.


As we talked you could sense his longing to understand their suffering. But much more, there was a feeling he was in position to do something about it. He took risks that others could not even contemplate, and as he once said to me “set the bar as high as we can until something better appears”.

It was a privilege to be one of those who saw something at close quarters of Albert Reynolds’ contributions to the Peace Process. But behind the headlines and the political ups and downs of the public face of the man, I saw a constant belief in the triumph of decency and justice no matter what the odds.

He has found a place in the history of one of the darkest periods of Ireland’s story. Let his legacy be he was prepared to risk all to end it.

May Albert Reynolds the peacemaker rest in peace.


Dr Robin Eames, is former Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All-Ireland