The third of seven children, his father, from Roscommon, was a primary school teacher.
Following his studies at St Malachy’s, he went on to Queen’s University and in June 1941 was ordained into the priesthood at Maynooth College.
Awarded a Doctorate in Divinity in 1945, he went on to do postgraduate studies in philosophy at the Institute Catholique in Paris.
His first appointment was as Classics Master in St Malachy’s College (1944-1945). In 1945, he was appointed lecturer in Scholastic Philosophy at Queen’s University, Belfast.
From 1952–1953 Queens granted him sabbatical leave, which he spent studying at the Catholic Institute of Paris where he received a licentiate in philosophy. He was a peritus, or theological expert, at the Second Vatican Council (1963–1965) to the late Bishop William Philbin, former Bishop of Down and Connor, during the first session of the Council; and to the late Cardinal William Conway, former Archbishop of Armagh, for the rest of the Council.
In 1967 Cardinal Daly was appointed bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois.
One of the major problems he faced at that time was the decline in rural population. This meant young curates were withdrawn from many parishes.
To counter this he involved priests heavily in the pastoral care of secondary schools so that they had contact with young people from surrounding parishes.
He also attempted to combat the social deprivation and psychological hardship which depopulation brings, particularly for older people, by getting the Church involved with statutory services in geriatric day hospital services and meals on wheels.
After serving 15 years in the diocese, he was in 1982 appointed to what was called at the time the “hottest” seat in the Catholic hierarchy, and was consecrated as Bishop of Down and Connor, on the retirement of Dr William Philbin.
His flock numbered 302,000 – the second most populous diocese in Ireland.
Upon his appointment, he admitted that he was “overawed” by the sense of responsibility and the magnitude and complexity of the pastoral problems in administering in the diocese.
However, he said, in a sense, he felt as though he was returning home.
At the time Cardinal Tomás O Fiaich, Primate of All Ireland, said the return north of one who had written of its people with such compassion and understanding would auger a happier and more peaceful future.
Appointed Primate of All Ireland in 1990, after the sudden death of Cardinal O Fiaich, Dr Daly was seen as a conservative and had publicly spoken against integrated education, divorce and contraception.
At 75, he was considered by many in the Church to be too old for the demanding job of Primate of All-Ireland.
However, his supporters believed that because he had survived the rigours of eight tough years in one of the country’s most demanding dioceses he was well able for the job.
He served until his retirement, at the age of 79, where he was succeeded by Cardinal Brady on October 1, 1996. Cardinal Daly was created a cardinal by the late Pope John Paul II on June 28, 1991.
Cardinal Daly firmly believed a bishop should have personal contact with priests and people of the diocese.
He felt it was important to be in touch with theological development in the Church and be able to give doctrinal and moral guidance at personal, family, societal and political level.
The cardinal spoke widely on the moral, social and political problems which faced Ireland, north and south.
As a northerner who moved south, he had the advantage of living on both sides of the border for long periods and this gave him a keen awareness of the wider dimensions of the problem.
He was joint co-chairman of an inter-church working party which produced a report, Violence in Ireland, in October 1976.
The report committed the churches to a thorough re-examination of conscience on a range of issues and offered practical suggestions for improving inter-community harmony in the North.
Upon his retirement Cardinal Daly returned to his study of theology and philosophy. He was the author of a series of books on violence and the search for peace in the North, including a book of memoirs, Steps On My Pilgrim Journey, which was published in 1998. Among his other published works are Philosophy in Britain from Bradley to Wittgenstein and The Minding of Planet Earth, published in 2004.
In March 2007 the late Dr Thomas Kelly, former head of the Department of Philosophy at NUI Maynooth, launched Philosophical Papers, a collection of articles previously published in various journals by Cardinal Daly.
The late cardinal’s favourite hobby was said to be reading, particularly philosophy, theology, scripture and liturgy. He was also interested in modern literature and collected books.
Another interest was Romanesque and Medieval ecclesiastical art and architecture.
When he was 64, just before being consecrated Bishop of Down and Connor in 1982, he suffered a minor heart attack, but made a full recovery, although a subsequent report in late 1983 reported he still was not in good health.
In 2003, at the age of 86, he was also admitted to hospital where he received treatment for a heart complaint.
He retired in 1996, but in 2001 celebrated the funeral Mass in Dublin for 10 Republicans executed by the British during the War of Independence.
On December 28 the cardinal was taken from his south Belfast home to the Belfast City Hospital and was treated for a coronary problem in a specialist unit.
It is understood to be the second time in a month that the 92-year-old former Archbishop of Armagh has been treated in hospital.
He died died yesterday in a Belfast hospital having been admitted suffering from heart problems.