Eamon Casey, the 89-year-old the former Bishop of Galway and Kerry, died peacefully on Monday while in residential care at Carrigoran House. Bishop Casey resigned as Bishop of Galway 25 years ago when it was revealed by an American woman, Annie Murphy, that he was the father of their teenage son, Peter.
Annie Murphy shook the Catholic Church in Ireland to its foundations when she appeared with Gay Byrne on the Late Late Show to tell her story. Casey, she said, had contributed financially to Peter’s upbringing in Connecticut for 15 years. However that was after he had exerted pressure on her to have their son adopted. Murphy was also angry that the bishop did not want a relationship with his son.
Happily, that relationship was mended in later life and a statement issued by Bishop Casey’s family noted, “On behalf of his son, Peter, his brother, Father Micheál, his sister, Ita Furlong, nieces and nephews, grand-nieces and grand-nephews, great-grand nieces and great-grand nephews, we wish to acknowledge the priestly work of Bishop Eamonn, especially in the pursuit of social justice for the marginalised, as evidenced by his work with Shelter in London in the 1950’s and 1960’s and later with his involvement in the setting up and development of Trócaire.”
Had it not been for the stain on his personal life, Eamon Casey would best be remembered as a champion of the poor. In the 1960s he worked as a chaplain to emigrants in London at a time when many Irish people had trundled across the sea to labour on building sites with Wimpey and John Laing while living lonely, solitary lives in bedsits. Casey tried to do something for them and became involved in the Catholic Housing Aid Society. The Irish emigrant community also held him in very high esteem for his work with the homeless.
In 1969 at the age of 42 he became Bishop of Kerry and once again became active on social issues, particularly to do with poorer people. During this period he founded Trócaire, the highly respected third-world charity and in 1976 he was appointed Bishop of Galway.
His human rights interests had taken on an international perspective by this time, in 1980 he travelled to El Salvador to represent the Irish bishops at the funeral of Archbishop Oscar Romero who was murdered while saying Mass. Casey witnessed the massacre of 60 people by the Salvadorean army at a time when Liberation Theology, which was empowering people across South and Central America, was under attack from US-backed militias.
When Ronald Reagan came to Ireland four years later to receive an honorary doctorate from UCG, Bishop Casey boycotted the event and led a demonstration from the grounds of the Cathedral. These were events that also featured another man with a Newmarket-on-Fergus background, President Michael D. Higgins, who strongly defended the human rights of Latin American people for many years.
During his time as Bishop of Galway, many stories were told of the flamboyant bishop who raced around town at speed in his flashy Merc. In a way it could be said that Eamon Casey lived his life in the fast track. But no man is one-dimensional, and Eamon Casey was above all else a man, as William Shakespeare once said, “We all are men, in our natures frail, and capable of our flesh; few are angels.” May he rest in peace.