Donncha Mac Niallais was ‘one of the good guys’ who leaves 'enduring legacy' funeral told
Donncha Mac Niallais was recalled as ‘wise, kind and thoughtful’ and as one of ‘the good guys’ whose ‘legacy will endure for many years’ at a poignant funeral service in the Long Tower today.
Mourners gathered in St. Columba’s this morning after the sudden death of the well-known republican and community worker at the age of 64 on Friday.
“He was a wise, kind, thoughtful son and brother, a go-to person for family and so many others. He could always be relied upon for objective and sound counsel,” his sister Cathy said in a moving statement read out on behalf his family at the start of the service.
“The memories and good days will outlast the heartache and grief. Donncha was one of the good guys. A crann taca air an ar measc. He was an inspiration whose legacy will continue to endure for many years to come. Tá sé imithe ar shlí na fírinne, i measc laochra na nGael, go raibh a anam uasal,” she said.
The congregation heard how Donncha was born on February 4, 1958, in Wellington Street but moved with his family to Creggan shortly afterwards.
He was educated at Rosemount Primary School and St. Columb’s College and came of age at a time of political turmoil.
“Just over ten years after Donncha was born the civil rights march was attacked at Duke Street. Donncha’s childhood and early teens witnessed massive state repression with the introduction of internment and the massacre on Bloody Sunday - this against a background of gerrymandering, discrimination and institutional sectarianism. He was deeply affected by all of these events and the arrests, imprisonments and killings of friends and neighbours,” said Cathy.
As a young teenager Donncha felt compelled to act to change that situation, his sister said, and it was in the early 1970s that he told his mother Mary, that ‘he had to take a different path to bring about change’.
“Donncha’s decision and actions as a political activist eventually led him to the H-Blocks in 1976, where he was later joined by John [his brother] and both refused to be criminalised.
“Donncha was a proud blanket man and prisoner of war,” mourners heard.
He was a committed Gaeilgeoir who threw himself into community activism again upon his release from prison in 1986.
“He found employment in the community and Irish language sector. Mary had helped to found Dove House in 1984 and as she went on to pursue new political and community challenges Donncha became synonymous with the leadership of Dove House.
“Throughout the 1990s and to the present day he was to the fore of ground-breaking community developments and regeneration initiatives across the Bogside and Brandywell and further afield,” said Cathy.
His role in largely ending parade disputes in Derry twenty-five years ago was also noted with his sister observing: “His immense skillset, experience and balanced judgment made him a key negotiator in resolving the parades issue in Derry.
“Ironically this was one of those touchstone issues in the backdrop of the society into which he was born.”
In his homily Fr. Gerard Mongan said: “Donncha was that true man of the people who fought injustice all his life and quietly listened and said what needed to be said.
“He lived those words of Ecclesiasticus. He lived those ‘seasons for everything’.
“He lived in those times for planting and uprooting, knocking down, building, times for embracing, healing and for peace, devoting his whole life to the community, to its development and improving the lives of others around him as a leader, a guiding light.
“So many of us here today loved his company, his wisdom, his droll sense of humour, his crack, and I know he had a way of making you feel heard, and he could bring calm and comfort at difficult times.
“He has left us a legacy: commitment to civil liberty, just rights and an Irish identity that we can never forget or deny.”
Sinn Féin MLA Pádraig Delargy paid his own tribute after learning of Donncha’s death: “Donncha Mac Niallais has been a highly respected and committed republican activist in the Bogside for almost 50 years.”
The late Derry republican was laid to rest in the City Cemetery.