Mr. Reynolds, who died last week aged 81 after a long illness, was hailed by the Fermanagh priest as “a key figure and a driving force” in bringing peace to Northern Ireland.
Fr. D’Arcy told mourners at the Sacred Heart Church in Dublin, among them Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Irish President Michael D Higgins, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and former British Prime Minister John Major, that Mr. Reynolds “never regretted risking everything for peace”.
He said the former Taoiseach never knew if his efforts, along with Mr. Major, to bring an end to the Troubles, including the IRA ceasefire 20 years ago this month, were fully appreciated when he was alive. “He does now,” said Fr. D’Arcy.
“Albert thought deeply about ending violence; he knew that peace is more than the absence of war, but he also realised that peace cannot take root until the violence stops,” he said.
It was when Fr. D’Arcy “a young student, barely 20 years of age, walking down a crowded O’Connell Street without a penny in my pocket” met Mr. Reynolds, then a country music promoter.
“As clerics did in those days I had a large hat shading my pimply face, a white Roman Collar, a black suit, a pioneer pin and a fáinne and looking insufferably pious,” he said.
Mr. Reynolds was about to publish a new magazine and wanted Fr. D’Arcy to write about showbands “for nothing of course”.
“I informed him that as a clerical student I wasn’t even allowed to read a paper never mind to write for it. Albert replied: “What’s your father’s name?” I told him it was Hugh. Immediately he shot back: “Have an article in next week and we’ll call you Hughie.” By such chance meetings are lives changed forever – to paraphrase the man himself – That’s Albert for you.”
Over the years, the two men became the best of friends and even before Mr. Reynolds entered politics they spoke “passionately” about how violence was destroying not only Northern Ireland but the entire country.
Fr. D’Arcy told mourners: “When I used to come down [to Dublin] from Enniskillen occasionally I would find a mysterious letter left at the Graan Monastery where I live, ‘For Albert Reynolds’.
“I would bring it down, quietly. He’d read it and an hour later when I was about to go home he’d give me another envelope ‘to be collected’. It was left at the monastery door. I have no idea who collected them but they always were [collected].”
“He was testing the water and making contacts even then. Not all his bets were reckless,” added Fr. D’Arcy, who recalled the night Mr. Reynolds was elected Taoiseach.
“We had prayers in his home. Over a cup of tea and before I headed back to the North, Albert made one promise. He said: “Brian, before I leave this job I’ll bring peace to the north.”
Fr. D’Arcy stated that had Mr. Reynolds not taken those risks for peace “we would still be killing one another and in the name of what”.
And, he told mourners about the words of Gordon Wilson, whose daughter Marie was killed in the 1987 Enniskillen bombing and whom Mr. Reynolds nominated to the Irish Senate in 1993. Mr. Wilson, explained Fr. D’Arcy, used to say: “Because of Albert’s inspired approach no father will have to lift his precious daughter from a bombed rubble.”
For Mr. Reynolds “peace was the only battle worth waging” said Fr. D’Arcy. “He knew that peace is not achieved by talking only to your friends; you must talk to your enemies and make friends with them; peace is waged through dialogue and understanding.
“As he said himself: “Who’s afraid of peace?” He took personal and political risks. All he was saying was “give peace a chance”.