Fr Alec Reid and Mount Sinai

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I learned today that the late Father Alec Reid drafted his epistle for peace in Northern Ireland on the top of a mountain in County Wicklow.

Before leaving this world in 2013 the Clonard priest, based in west Belfast revealed to former Department of Foreign Affairs official, Bill Nolan that in the Eighties he went to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain to pen his fourteen page epistle to former SDLP leader John Hume.

This became the template for peace in Northern Ireland.

In the document Fr. Reid argued why Hume should engage with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams to sue for peace.

“I wanted to get as close as I could to The Lord seeking inspiration” Father Reid told Bill Nolan.

Nolan was a regular visitor to the Rathgar residential home in Dublin to which Fr Reid retired.

Coincidentally the ailing priest who lived to see peace come ‘droppin’ in Northern Ireland finally closed his eyes in full view of Sugar Loaf Mountain from his hospital bed in St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin.

Fr Reid undertook his venture involving Adams and Hume in the wake of a meeting with former Irish PM Charles J Haughey.

In the early Eighties Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams appealed to the Catholic Church to come up with an alternative to its criticism of Republicans engaged in a violent campaign in pursuit of a united Ireland.

Father Reid who knew Adams from a Seventies feud in West Belfast answered his call. He met the Sinn Fein president who wanted a meeting with the Fianna Fáil leader Charles J Haughey.

Fr. Reid consulted with the Head of his Order and the late Cardinal Tomás O Fiaich.

In the wake of a meeting between the modest priest and Mr Haughey, at his opulent Kinsealy residence, Haughey nominated John Hume to act as proxy for him in any engagement with Gerry Adams.

Haughey was at that time on what his then advisor PJ Mara called ‘the rubber-chicken circuit’ around Ireland. He was seeking to rehabilitate his tarnished reputation in the wake  of ‘The Arms Trial’ when he was cleared of charges of allegedly plotting to import arms for the IRA at the start of Northern Ireland’s Troubles.

Haughey was sacked from his ministerial post by Jack Lynch and he was at pains in the Eighties not to jeopardise his chances of becoming Taoiseach due to any contamination with Republicans.

The Reid/Haughey encounter resulted in what emerged as the Hume/Adams dialogue triggered by Father Reid’s mountain top 14 page epistle or letter.

The symbolism of Fr Reid’s choosing Sugar Loaf Mountain will not be lost on students of the bible familiar with Mount Sinai where God gave Moses The Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus chose to impart so many of his teachings.


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I am a regular contributor to discussion programmes on TV and radio both at home and abroad. An experienced political editor and author specialising in Politics, Security and 20th Century Art.


  1. Memories of Martin Luther King’s famous speech: ‘I have climbed the mountain, I have looked over, and I have seen the promised land.’

  2. i am very surprised at your comments re C J Haughey the arms trial and guns for the IRA.and i will not allow you or any other so called historian tray to criminalise him or any other defendants in this act of Irish government treachery and political cowardice carried our by jack lynch. it was proved and accepted by the the jury and the court that all of the defendants were working with the full authority and consent of the Irish government and it was also proved that these weapons were not to be given to what was at that time pre the split was the stickies (official ira an organisation who had been discredited in the north)( suggest you talk to mr Derossa about that period of history) but as testified by COL Heffernan and CPT Kelly that these weapons were to be kept under the control of the irish army and would only be released to the citizens defence committees in Belfast and Derry and cpt kelly was the go between with this organization and the Irish army and the department of defence and at all times was answerable to his commanding officer col haffernan it was later proved that information on this matter was removed from the army intelligence but was subsequently found by the late cpt kelly who went to his grave proving the treachery of lynch and co and as i can remember that birtie ahern issued and apology to his family for the wrong committed against him by withdrawing his army pension which is more than was ever given to any of the other defendants and as john kelly said we did not come looking for nappies of baby food we came looking for guns to defend ourselves and i might point out that Gerry Fitt was on several of the delegations who met the irish government but of course he later denied it so the arms trial had nothing to do with arming the ira it was and is a discredited argument

  3. Eddie Finnegan on

    Eamonn, I’ll grant you Mount Sinai would have the altitude and attitude to look down even on Sliabh gCullain, but the Sermon on the Mount seems to have been delivered from one of the slopes around Capernaum. If Matthew and Luke had ever been to Dallas, they might have dismissed it as little more than a grassy knoll, handy as a wayside pulpit to give a Preacher’s Beatitudes some prominence.

    What puzzles me is that this man from Tipperary and Clonard, with a true republican pedigree to put to shame the pretences of Charlie Haughey, Gerry Adams and even John Hume, didn’t look for a Mount Horeb or Mount Sinai closer to Clonard. I quote from a book I first read for a fortnight of early mornings to a mainly silent community of my Vincentian teachers as they laid into their minimalist version of an Ulster fry in their refectory on Armagh’s Sandy Hill in the late autumn of 1960:

    “But there was another excursion (in May 1795), more momentous and more serious. This time the women and children were left at home, and Tone, Thomas Russell. Samuel Neilson, the two Simms, Harry McCracken ‘and one or two more’ climbed to the summit of the Cave Hill. There on the ancient site of MacArt’s Fort, surveying the vast panorama that stretches in every direction – the Mourne Mountains, the Lagan Valley, the Derry Mountains, Slemish in Antrim, the lovely blue Belfast Lough at their feet, the sea beyond, and farther off still the Scottish shores – there they ‘took a solemn obligation . . . never to desist in our efforts, until we had subverted the authority of England over our country, and asserted her independence.’
    Quote from ‘Life of Theobald Wolfe Tone’, edited by his son. Washington 1826 – in ‘The Life and Times of Mary Ann McCracken 1770-1866: a Belfast Panorama’ by Mary McNeill, 1960, 1988.”

    But maybe that’s not what Fr Alec was about nearly two centuries on. Besides, I suppose, Presbyterian Dissenters of the McCracken ilk have long been scarcer than Vincentians or Redemptorist Republicans.

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