The homily delivered by Mgr. Raymond Murray, her prison chaplain at Armagh jail and a lifelong friend, at the funeral on Monday of Dolours Price.
‘The souls of the virtuous are in the hands of God’, so says the First Reading taken from the book of Wisdom. Today we give back into the hands of God the soul of Dolours our sister. Wisdom is a rich word. It is an understanding of what is important in life. It is an ability to see things in perspective, to discern what is of lasting value, what has an eternal edge to it, and what is of passing concern. Every human being struggles with the meaning of life. In the Sermon on the Mount, our Gospel today, Jesus makes promises - the kingdom of heaven, comfort, full satisfaction, mercy, the vision of God, great reward for those who are pure of heart, who live spiritually, humbly, mercifully, in accordance with God’s will. To the world it is a contradiction that God equates persecution and mourning with happiness. God’s ways are not our ways. But we believe he is our providence and he will bring us safely home, even if we walk through the valley of darkness. Like Jesus we abandon ourselves into the Father’s hands. Then we are blessed with salvation and eternal glory.
Dolours was a young girl at the time of the Civil Rights Movement and was caught up in sympathy for those who suffered injustice. That led her into the political world - she was a member of the People’s Democracy, walked in the Burntollet march and was thrown into the river when it was attacked. From our acquaintance with Dolours we know that she was a philosopher searching for answers to problems of justice and human rights, not only in Ireland but internationally. The rest of her political life is well known to you.
Dolours’ family can relate her nature and her talents, most of which is outside the knowledge and understanding of those who did not know her personally. She was clever and witty, full of fun, held people enthralled by her conversation. She was very devoted to her parents. Her mother died on 1st February 1975. Their mother never saw Dolours and Marian back in Ireland. They did not get compassionate leave from prison in England to attend her funeral. A week after her death they were repatriated to Ireland. That grief of not seeing their mother again never found closure with them. Dolours’ father Albert died on 31 July 1996. She had a great relationship with him and the family have many memories of the fun and banter exchanged between Dolours and their father. As for the rest of the family, Dolours and Marian were like bosom twins and Clare and Damian, sister and brother, loved both of them to bits supporting them in all their needs.
Dolours was a very talented person. She was just six months short of qualifying as a teacher in St Mary’s Training College when she was arrested. Her artistic talents were many - art, poetry, musician, command of language, hands for anything including fashion. I was speaking to Stephen Rea last Friday - I hadn’t met him since I officiated at his and Dolours wedding in St Patrick’s Cathedral Armagh. In the artistic line he was telling me of Dolours great understanding of literature and drama and how the theatre people loved her. In later life she was one of three who won a scholarship to study law in Trinity College Dublin but illness prevented her continuing the course after the first year. Friends speak of her great generosity, a wide compassion, always wanting to help others and share her time with them. As regards Danny and Oscar her sons, she was both mother and ardent teacher. She loved exploring words with them, all the time expanding their vocabulary and Oscar and she could spend hours philosophising. She was proud of their achievements - made sure they got a Gaelic schooling from naiscoil onwards. Dolours had a great sense of being a Belfast woman and did her best to see that her sons did not lose their Belfast accents when they moved from Belfast to live in Dublin. Of course having been a chaplain in Armagh Prison for 19 years I knew Dolours and Marian well when they were there and became acquainted with the Price family. Both were released on grounds of serious ill-health related to the sufferings of their hunger strike and forced feeding. They were in danger of death and received an accelerated release after intercession by the Taoiseach, the Papal Nuncio, Cardinal Tomas O Fiaich and others. Illness never left them. Marian, as you know, has been seriously ill in hospital for the past nine months and Dolours, like Marian, has been ill for years. I visited her in hospital in Dublin a few months ago but was still shocked by her sudden death.
‘Slight was their affliction, great will be their blessing’ says Wisdom - Dolours had her share of suffering all her life. In a strange way she lived up to her name, Dolours, a baptismal name given to her no doubt in devotional memory of Our Lady of Sorrows. The last line of our First Reading. What is the parting word from Wisdom? ‘Grace and mercy await those he has chosen’. Now the Lord welcomes her with his grace, with his lavish love, with his unconditional mercy, with his compassion and understanding of human weakness and sinfulness, and his readiness and eagerness to forgive and to welcome us, in all our weakness, in our humanity which he created and which is so dear to him.
So we this morning are accompanying Dolours by our prayers to her final destination and we gladly hand her over to Jesus our Saviour. As Paul says ‘we belong to the Lord’. It is for Dolours and all of us that he died and came to life. He rushes to meet her at her coming and beside him is his holy Mother Mary. And with them are Dolours’ parents Crissie and Albert and all the family members in heaven and as I have said she will rejoice with them forever. Having passed from death to new life she will be ever present with Stephen, Danny, Oscar, Damian, Clare and Marian, family and friends. And we pray for the wisdom to understand something of what God has prepared for those who love him, or even try to love him. We commend Dolours to the Lord, into his loving hands.
Our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount, his first sermon, our gospel today, swings the pendulum between life and death:
Happy those who know they are spiritually poor; The kingdom of heaven belongs to them, Happy are those who mourn; God will comfort them.
This is the good news of Christ who by dying destroyed our death and by rising restored our life. Real optimism. Christ continually emphasises that sorrow will be turned into joy.
* Thanks to Mgr Murray for permission to reproduce this text as a tribute to Dolours Price. Ar dheis Dé dá h-anam.