Northern Ireland

Funeral of Fr Alec Reid held in west Belfast monastery

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Media captionThe coffin of Fr Alec Reid leaving Clonard Monastery after the service, which hundreds of mourners attended

Tributes have been paid to Fr Alec Reid, a key figure in the Northern Ireland peace process, at his funeral.

Hundreds attended requiem Mass at Clonard Monastery in west Belfast, his base for four decades.

Last week, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams described Clonard as "the cradle of the peace process".

Fr Reid secretly acted as a conduit between the republican movement and the SDLP, and years later was a witness to the IRA destroying its weapons.

During his homily, Fr Michael Kelleher spoke of the challenges of acting as a go-between in the talks involving Sinn Féin and the SDLP.

"For Fr Alec, dialogue involved face-to-face communication between people who are in conflict with each other for reasons that have to do with historical, political or cultural differences that are causing death and destruction on the streets," he said.

He talked about the one of the earliest meetings between Mr Adams and former SDLP leader John Hume in a convent beside St Clement's retreat centre on the Antrim Road in Belfast.

"Sister Eileen was preparing the room for Fr Alec, Mr Hume and Mr Adams," he told the congregation.

Image caption Former SDLP leader, John Hume, was among the political representatives at Clonard Monastery

"She splashed holy water copiously on the chairs and put miraculous medals under the cushions.

"I'm not sure if any of the three men noticed the dampness or the medals... but Sr Eileen's prayers and the prayers of many others were eventually answered."

Among those attending the funeral were Fr Reid's sisters, Margaret O'Meara and Maura Lister, Maura's family, and Fr Reid's aunt, Ita Kavanagh.

The first minister did not attend, but was represented by two DUP colleagues, Simon Hamilton and Jimmy Spratt.

The deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness and Mark Durkan and Alex Attwood of the SDLP were also there.

Mr Hume, Mr Adams and Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt were among some of the political representatives at Clonard Monastery.

Other representatives paying their respects included the former Irish president, Mary McAleese and her husband Martin, Col Brendan McAndrew on behalf of the current Irish president, Michael D Higgins, and Commander Alan Bolger, on behalf of the Irish prime minister, Enda Kenny.

During the service, Fr Kelleher also talked about Fr Alec meeting the Queen.

"Fr Alec's friend Mary McAleese invited Fr Alec to meet with Queen Elizabeth. He gave the thumbs up to Her Majesty - I'm not sure that anybody had ever done that to Her Majesty before. It's a picture I'll remember of Fr Alec," he said.

Mrs McAleese told the congregation that Fr Reid always saw hope in humanity.

She described him as "a man who really bought very, very deeply into the healing power of love".

She added: "Into this tightly bound world of vanities where people refused to talk to other people because of a long list of becauses, where violence sharpened tongues and hardened hearts, there came the rather quiet and humble figure of Al Reid.

"He saw spaces for hope to grow... he saw ways to soften hearts, he found words to persuade the estranged to talk to one another, to take a chance on one another, to find common ground."

Protestant clergyman Rev Harold Good, who witnessed the decommissioning of IRA weapons along with Fr Reid, took part in the ceremony.

The US Consul General, Gregory S. Burton and Basque Senator, Urko Aiartza, were also in attendance.

The Archbishop of Armagh, Cardinal Sean Brady, was among several church representatives.

Bishop Alan Abernethy represented the Church of Ireland, Rev Norman Hamilton attended on behalf of the Presbyterian Church and Rev Heather Morris represented the Methodist Church.

Fr Reid died in a Dublin hospital on Friday. He was 82.

He was pictured in one of the starkest images of the Troubles in 1988, when he was photographed praying over the bodies of Army corporals Derek Wood and David Howes.

They had been dragged from their car, beaten and shot by the IRA after inadvertently driving into a republican funeral cortege.

In recent years, the Redemptorist priest was involved in talks with Basque nationalists seeking independence from Spain.

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