Bishop Eamonn Casey 1927-2017: A life lived to its fullest but famous for one thing

The arc of Eamonn Casey’s life had many highlights, all of which are aptly recalled in the wake of his death.

Bishop Eamonn Casey at the ordination of Archbishop Dermot Clifford in Thurles 1987. Picture: Don MacMonagle

But nothing his did — not his standing in the doorway of San Salvador cathedral helping others to safety with no regard for his own, nor his leading the faithful in their joyful celebration of the arrival of Pope John Paul II — had the seismic effect of the news that he’d had an affair with an American divorcee with whom he had fathered a son.

“It was a bit like ‘Where were you when Kennedy was shot’?” said his good friend Fr Dermot McCarthy yesterday.

The news of his passing yesterday afternoon at Carrigoran Nursing Home in Co Clare, after a long illness was met with many tributes, including one from his son Peter, now in his 40s.

A statement from the family on behalf of Peter and other family members, said he had been “a great source of love and support, making himself available to celebrate and to empathise with us in all our important family occasions”.

Indeed, Fr McCarthy said yesterday that he had reconciled with his son Peter — but not so much Annie Murphy, his former lover.

Peter spent a hour with his father at the nursing home after appearing on the Late Late Show three years ago.

“I brought him to nursing home and they had an hour together and it was a very happy hour and they got on great and it was lovely,” Fr McCarthy said.

He said staff at the home told him afterwards that the visit had made Bishop Casey easier to deal with “as if something had come home to him and that everything would be alright,” Fr McCarthy told RTÉ.

Bishop Casey’s work on behalf of the marginalised and the persecuted was a recurrent theme of his life. 

In his earlier years in the UK, he had helped ensure Irish immigrants were properly housed through his involvement with the charity Shelter.

Back in Ireland, he worked with Trócaire and was chair of the charity for almost 20 years prior to his resignation when news of the affair broke in 1992.

A statement from Trócaire last night said he “shone a spotlight on situations of injustice overseas” and “worked assiduously on behalf of marginalised communities, particularly in El Salvador”.

After Archbishop Oscar Romero was murdered while saying Mass in San Salvador in 1980, Bishop Casey attended his funeral. 

The funeral was attacked by death squads and Bishop Casey helped others to safety in the cathedral as bullets whizzed by, according to news reports at the time.

Last night, President Michael D Higgins said he had “heard with sadness of the passing of Eamonn Casey, former Bishop of Galway and Kerry”.

While praising his humanitarian work, he said there were “other aspects of his life” that were “the source of of pain to others, for which Bishop Casey has apologised and expressed his deep regret”.

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