James Ward, PA
Austin Currie has been remembered for his “fearless, immense courage” and as a giant of the civil rights movement.
A service was held at St Malachy’s Church in his native Edendork, Co Tyrone, on Saturday for the former SDLP and Fine Gael politician, following a ceremony in Co Kildare on Friday.
Archbishop Eamon Martin, former SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell, long serving members Joe Hendron and Denis Haughey, MLAs Justin McNulty and Daniel McCrossan, Tyrone County Board chairman Michael Kerr, along with Mr Currie’s local GAA team Edendork St Malachy’s, were among those to pay their respects.
Tributes have been paid across Ireland to Mr Currie (82) who was one of the key figures in the civil rights movement in the North, who also helped to found the nationalist SDLP party and who had been an elected official on both sides of the Border.
His daughter Estelle said: “What a force for change you have been, what a force for good.
“The youngest member of the Stormont parliament, a civil rights leader, a founding member of the SDLP, elected Teachta Dala (TD) for Dublin West, and still only 50 years old when asked to represent Fine Gael in the 1990 presidential election.
“I don’t think we can call him an underachiever.
“Then as a minister of state, the first to represent children’s rights, and the only one to serve in government in both the north and the south.
“There have been so many tributes paid since Tuesday, the finest, fearless, immense courage, a true giant of civil rights and constitutional politics.
“Daddy was always a hero to us. And now we know he was a hero to so many others too.”
Mr Currie died in his sleep at his home in Derrymullen, Co Kildare, on Tuesday.
He was born in Co Tyrone, the eldest of 11 children.
Mr Currie’s decision to squat at a council house in Caledon in June 1968 is widely seen as the beginning of the civil rights movement, which challenged inequality and discrimination against Catholics.
His daughter said at that moment, her father “felt a very strong sense of injustice”.
She added: “He felt they tried everything else. The civil rights movement was the most successful political action in Ireland.
“For daddy, it was the defining moment.”
She recalled how her father was often at risk of his life, sleeping with a gun by his bed and checking his car for bombs before doing the morning school run.
“Daddy reached the great old age of 82,” she added. “He died peacefully in his own bed. If you’d said that to him, aged 30, he wouldn’t have believed it.”
Gifts presented at the funeral service included a poster from the civil rights march in Derry on October 5th, 1968, a garden tool, GAA jerseys for Tyrone and Edendork, a remote control – reflecting his love of news and media – and a copy of his book, All Hell Will Break Loose.
The funeral concluded with a performance of We Shall Overcome, a song that became synonymous with the North’s civil rights movement.
Mr Currie was laid to rest in the cemetery adjoining St Malachy’s Church.
He created the SDLP along with John Hume and Gerry Fitt in 1970.
In 1989, he won a seat in Dublin West for Fine Gael and pursued a career as TD and minister until he retired in 2002.