SDLP members are saddened tonight at the death earlier today of Eddie McGrady, one of the first people to join the SDLP in 1970.
I had never formally met him, but can still recall the first occasion that I actually saw him.
The Falls Branch delegation arrived a little late to the 1973 SDLP Conference and Eddie (Chairman of the Party) was opening the Conference.
Eddie was a junior minister in the ill-fated Power-Sharing Executive, which only lasted six months, brought down by the continuing violence and the “Ulster Workers Strike”.
The son of a Nationalist politician, who had fought the (future) Prime Minister, Brian Faulkner in the 1949 Election in East Down for the Norn Iron Parliament….Eddie himself was defeated by Faulkner in 1969.
Eddie had broken with the Nationalist Party in the late 1950s. And was one of the key figures in the short-lived National Democrats, which sought to modernise Nationalist politics and unite the disparate strands such as the Nationalist Party and Republican Labour Party.
Ironically it was the “Crossroads Election” of January 1969 and the Troubles of August 1969, which led to the formation of the SDLP in 1970.
Established politicians, Gerry Fitt (Republican Labour) and Austin Currie (Nationalist) joined forces with Paddy Devlin (NILP) and newly elected Civil Righters, John Hume, Ivan Cooper and Paddy O’Hanlon and “senators” Claude Wilton (Liberal) and Paddy Wilson (Republican Labour) to form the SDLP.
Despite having no elected representatives, the National Democrats had an organisation of sorts and dissolved the NDP to throw their weight fully behind the new venture. It was Eddies NDP who provided the logistical support and established a SDLP brand, rather than a group of larger than life individuals.
Eddie fought three losing Westminster campaigns in South Down Enoch Powell, the English former Minister, whose racist views were too toxic for the Conservatives but actually embraced by the UUP.
Eddie defeated Powell in the 1987 Westminster General Election.And held the seat for the SDLP. He stood down at the 2010 General Election. His protege, Margaret Ritchie won the seat.
“Steady Eddie” was a key figure in SDLP History. Well respected by people in different parties…some of it will be genuine but we will have to endure the putrid hypocrisy of SDLP-hating websites like Slugger O’Toole. Look out for some of the usual name-dropping, mixing supposed praise with the usual dig at SDLP.
I did not know Eddie McGrady in any way. I probably never really “met” him. At party conferences over the past few years, he looked frail on occasions and his death after illness is expected.
Indeed his declining condition was referenced on occasions on Saturday at the SDLP Party Conference.
Alasdair McDonnell spoke of visiting him for the final time.
Eddies final message to SDLP.
“Dont mourn for me. Just go out and finish the job”
Rest in Peace.
Was he the son of the nationalist politician who was Brian Faulkner’s opponent in the 1949 election? Perhaps, he was but I seem to remember that he was a nephew of that opponent of Faulkner.
I think he was a nephew of Big Ned. (Info thanks to reader and Downpatrick born Rory Carr)
No, “Eddie” E.K. McGrady was the nephew of “Big Ned” E.K. McGrady who stood unsuccessfully against Brian Faulkner when Faulkner was first elected to Stormont to represent East Down in 1949.
On that fateful night which, while only a mere boy, I recall so vividly, there began fierce rioting in Downpatrick when Faulkner’s supporters attempted a triumphalist march through the town. At one stage it was the local hurling team vs. an RUC riot squad. Hurleys being some inches longer than police batons, the contest was uneven. The local volunteer Fire Brigade were called out but, mistaking their orders, turned their hoses on the Orangemen.
It was not until called, following night when Father McCloskey called, “Right boys, you have given a good account of yourselves now it is time to retire to your homes in good order.”
It was the noise of the singing and cheering that woke me from my bed as the nationalist crowd, my neighbours, they now triumphant, marched up to Bailey’s Corner which was cattycorner to McGrady’s licensed grocery and there a huge bonfire was lit and there was much singing and dancing until the wee hours. At the end there remained only three figures gazing into the embers, two smokiong, one a small boy-child – Father McCloskey who had baptised me, Father Haughey who had baptised my brother who was later killed in dubious circumstances just before the Troubles kicked off in earnest and myself.
On the night on which he died some 10 years later, Fr, McCloskey, then long gone from our parish and long gone from my thoughts, appeared to me in a most vivid dream. I have not forgotten him ever since.
Thanks for that Rory ..I will change the reference.
Interestingly there was a Fr McCloskey in St Peters (Pro cathedral as it was then) when I was an altar boy… 1961-1963. I wonder if the same man ( he was elderly then). Same diocese of course.
Intrigued about the Fr Haughey you mention.
My Father McCloskey would have been dead by 1960. Of Father Haughey I know only that his Christian names were, Roland Arthur and this I know because when he baptised my younger brother he asked that he could give him those names as he knew it was unlikely in Ireland that another child would share such names. My mother, of course, was delighted to comply. The only difficulty was that she feared he would be then called ‘Roly’ and she wasn’t having that so he became ‘Ronnie’. He was killed in his nineteenth year.
Sorry about your brother Rory.
Some things hurt for ever.
I cant seem to find anything on Fr Haughey. My father was a very active layman and he followed all priestly ordinations/transfers in the diocese and I dont recall him mentioning anything.
Well done Ballycastle SDLP.
Best laugh i’ve had for ages.
Didn’t one leading light from the early SDLP end up in FG.
Take it he wasn’t a socialist.
That would be Austin Currie. And , yes, you most definitely can take it that he was not a socialist. There is another description ending in ‘…ist’ that I have heard used to describe him.