They called him the priest of the people. And Father Desmond Wilson certainly was. In West Belfast it was an institution. Humble, reserved, always available. Father Des was a peacemaker and a community activist.

Father Des died at age 94 last Tuesday in his Belfast.

The funeral, Friday was the last embrace of the people for his “Father Des” who did so much for the Northern Irish peace process as for the communities of Springhill and Ballymurphy in the hardest years of the so-called “Troubles”.

Father Des was always on the front line, to mediate, to find solutions, to make sure that adults received schooling.

Father Des had grown up on Ormeau Road in South Belfast and had attended St Malachy’s College. In 1949 he had taken the vows.

For 16 years he was spiritual director of the school (located in Northern Belfast) before arriving at the parish of St John, in West Belfast in 1966.

In later years, Father Des inevitably entered into conflict with the Catholic church and later decided to resign from ecclesiastical office.

At the funeral, Friday, it was the former president of Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams, who first took the floor to pay tribute to Father Des. Adams said that “the community of West Belfast considers Father Des a friend and mentor”.

Adams added: “Father Des has dedicated his life to helping people. During the terrible years of the conflict, he was at the side of the Upper Springfield Road community against the aggression and violence of British forces. “

Adams also recalled that “Father Des, along with Father Alec Reid, was the author of a mediation process between the different republican groups. A mediation that certainly saved lives after the feuds of the 1970s. “

The two priests, Adams still recalled, “have gone further and gone to talk to unionist paramilitaries and have facilitated meetings between Republicans and loyalists. They met with representatives of the British and Irish governments and anyone who wanted to hear them in the hope that the dialogue would be a contribution to the peace building process in Northern Ireland. “

The President of the Republic of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, also sent a condolence statement. “As President of Ireland, I want to thank Father Des Wilson who dedicated his life to building a more inclusive, more welcoming and peaceful Ireland. Father Des – the president added – spoke and worked both in Irish and in English and was recognized by all as “a true champion of the people”.


I was very privileged to count myself as one of Des’ friends, not one of his closest friends, but still a friend.

In many ways it was him who showed me “the road less travelled” – the path of independent Catholic ministry.

Des broke away from the official RC church by way of early resignation.

He entered independent ministry in Ballymurphy, Belfast, living in a Housing Executive house, among the people.

While other priests spoke of having a vow of poverty, Des lived it – living in public housing in the very same conditions as those he served.

His house was an open door and was totally taken over by those he served.

I once went to have an important chat with him. Lunch was mashed potatoes and beans.

We retired to his sitting room for a chat and soon had to leave as the room was needed for an adult education class.

We went to his bedroom which was a small box room with a single bed and a little wardrobe and a tv and video player in the corner.

We had to leave there as an adult education class needed the tv and video player.

We had our “important” conversation sitting on a wall in an impoverished estate.

He had a run down holiday house in Donegal which he loved. When he went there a bus load of Ballymurphy residents went with him.

Des was a man “who had nowhere to lay his head”. And he loved it.

He put me to shame – with my nice house and nice car. Des was the priest I’d have liked to be except I needed to keep some personal space and privacy.

He was also strongly Republican.

I often think he stretched the boundaries between being a man of peace and an activist – but would have done so with a clear conscience.

He supported my ministry, concelebrated important Oratory occasions with me and inspired me.

His long term companion Noelle, a former nun, was my champion.

One one occasion we were at an Association of Catholic Priests conference, and the crowd on the platform were lamenting that no bishop was present.

Noelle stood up and left the room silent and embarrassed by saying: “Excuse me. We have a Catholic bishop here with us. Bishop Pat Buckley is sitting in front of me”.

The ACC great and good squirmed and after a pregnant silence the agenda continued.

Noelle was a practitioner of alternative medicine, particularly Back Flower Remedies. She was also a counsellor and introduced lots of gay people and others to my book A Sexual Life – A Spiritual Life.

Incidentally, the only cleric who greeted me warmly that day was the current bishop of Raphoe, Alan McGuckian SJ.

Des was a power of strength.
Noelle was Des’ rock.

They are now reunited in the only perfect kingdom – the Kingdom of God.

I watched his funeral on the webcam.

I can’t understand how he or his allowed the three Pharisees in purple, Treanor, Walsh and Farquhar preside at his funeral.

I have left instructions that no such Romanist despot should be allowed at my funeral.

If it happens I will burst from my coffin and demand their departure.

There were two colonist forces imposing subjection upon the people of places like Ballymurphy – the Brits and the Roman’s.

Ballymurphy no longer welcome the Brit colonists.

But they still welcome their Roman colonists.

Is this not Ballymurphy turkeys voting for Christmas?

And I can’t understand how the celebrant Fr Patrick McCafferty tolerated the presence of the hunch back bishop, Patrick Walsh, a man McCafferty despises at the funeral.

Of course it all boils down to the fact that even McCafferty is an RC bishop worshipper 😥



From the Divis Rock Festival I organised after the Divis Clean Up in the early 1980s.