James and Cahal


Dear Bishop Pat,

Thank you for giving notice of the death and funeral arrangements from James Donnelly, someone whom it was my privilege to meet.

James was a gentleman and in fact the true “wee saint” (to recall how Cahal Daly was eulogised on his death). I hadn’t more than a cursory meeting with both men (the photograph you published shows the men in the Cortile San Damaso after their audience with Pope John Paul II) but his gentleness and goodness left a deep impression.

I can’t say the same for my several encounters with Cahal Daly. He was a pompous and vain little man, who underneath the supposed academic brilliance, was very insecure and perhaps even ashamed of his relatively modest background.

A nasty piece of work too, if slighted or crossed – as you well know. This fact was well known by his episcopal colleagues, and garnered in quite a few of them sympathy for you and how you had been so badly treated by him. 

Your post has set me thinking. Thinking about relationships and the need that all of us, whoever we may be, need to “matter”. To matter to someone.

I have no doubt that Cahal Daly “mattered” a great deal to James Donnelly, for without his intervention in his youth what future at all would he have had with such difficult beginnings? I don’t know, perhaps he would have had a life of considerable success? I doubt it.

Daly, for all his failings, was transformative in James’s life and without him things would have probably turned out very different and he may well have ended his days far from the comfort and security in which he lived and died. 

What’s also interesting to me is that James “mattered” a very great deal to Cahal Daly. I have never heard anyone say that theirs was anything other than an entirely chaste and would be very surprised to learn that they shared a bed, let alone enjoyed a sexually intimate relationship (Daly remined me of a dried-up prune, who wouldn’t have known what an erection was if it hit him in the gob!)

However, there is no doubt that James provided Daly with the intimacy and affective relationship that all of us, be we popes, cardinals, bishops, priests, lay folk, need and some crave. Without mattering to someone, many of us turn to drink, drugs, meaningless sexual encounters with strangers. Well, you know the situation all too well as evidenced on your necessary blog.

I have spent a life time in the company of “the hierarchy” and observing them at close quarters, and have seen it time and again. We all need someone who loves and cares for us in a way that no other one does. This is the basic human need that is attempted to be trained out in seminary (at least when I was in seminary) and yet the human heart makes itself known. Without it we are condemned to a life diminished, left with failure and disappointment, however many titles or acclaim we have.

For those who have reached the higher echelons of the Church these needs are met by such safe persons as a “James” or “Carmel”. Often ignored in public, and treated abruptly and rudely by their bosses – perhaps to allay suspicion – in private they are the ones who sit night after night, in the intimacy of the sitting room, watching television, with supper on a tray, discussing the day. They in fact the “other half” who matters. Pius XII and Sister Pasqulina, John XXIII and Loris Capovilla, Paul VI and John Magee… these are the ones who have kept these men sane in the darkest reaches of their years, and who have been holding them as they died.

How beautiful to be held in the arms of someone you love as you breath your last.

So I am glad that James had Cahal Daly, and even more glad that Cahal Daly had James. We all need to matter to someone, and perhaps, just perhaps, the one and only thing that got Cahal Daly into heaven, was that first act of kindness shown to a young orphan – whatever Daly’s initial and subsequent motivation.

James was the better man in the relationship.

May he be at peace and now enjoying a large glass of Paddy Power with Cackle B!

A Sympathetic Insider

James could not have written the above without help.


I think James is much more likely to be having that glass of Powers with Tomas O’Fiaich – who Daly referred to as an “intellectual lightweight”.