Profile: Reverend Harold Good

Exclusively on Slugger the Rev Harold Good, one of the two indenpendent witnesses overseeing the decommissioning of IRA talks to journalist John O’Farrell and about his life and his committment to his ministry of reconciliation.

By John O’Farrell

Last Monday, two shy men stepped forward into the cruel glare of mass publicity, and from the DUP, instant opprobrium, who accused Fr Alec Reid and Rev Harold Good of being appointed by the IRA, and by implication, dupes.

At Monday’s press conference announcing the complete disarmament of the IRA, the two clerical witnesses sat at a separate table from General John de Chastelain and his colleagues. With studious deliberateness, Rev Good did not take his eyes of the prescripted statement, and read it slowly, carefully and word perfect.

While the role of Fr Reid in weaning the IRA off ‘armed struggle’ is widely known, Rev Good is less well known outside of Ireland’s 70,000 Methodists and the brave souls who have been involved in promoting dialogue and understanding across the sectarian chasm during what he calls ‘those dark nights.’

He was born to the Manse in Derry in 1937, where his father was the Methodist minister at the City Mission. When he decided to follow his father’s foorsteps, he served as a probationary minister in the Dublin City Mission in the late 50s. Being in the Republic at the peak of the power of the catholic church was ‘less of a culture shock to me than most protestants from the North, as my father was from Skibbereen and we took many family holidays there.’

Working with the poor in the Coombe made him aware of the comparative comfort of his upbringing. ‘It gave me a genuine feel for people and was an important part of my formation.’ He ‘wanted to see more of this island home of ours’, and transferred to Waterford, where he met his wife Clodagh, also the offspring of a Methodist minister.

He was radically changed while ministering in Ohio in 1964, where his pastor was vary active in the Civil Rights movement. Later, he was ministering in a mostly black Methodist church in Indianapolis, and was there at the time of the murder of Martin Luther King. ‘I began to understand my own situation in a whole new way’, as he instinctively compared the New World with his old town. ‘It was the same thing in a different context, racism was the same thing as sectarianism.’

He visibly winces as he recalls the day that Dr King was assassinated. He offered to find a black pastor to take that following Sunday’s service, but his congregation insisted that he stayed. ‘They had lost their leader, they had lost hope, and I found that they trusted in me, sharing their grief and pain.’ It was useful training.

He returned to NI in late 1968, ‘looking for somewhere quiet’, and was installed into a chapel in Agnes Street in the Shankill. ‘Things were beginning to rumble.’ In October 1969, he kept his church open during huge loyalist riots in protest at the disbanding of the B Specials, in which Constable Victor Arbuckle became the first RUC man to be killed in the troubles. Two wounded loyalists were taken to his church hall, and died there. Then Good and his congregation ‘had to rearrange the room for Sunday School.’

His Church hall remained open during ‘those dark days and nights’, sheltering families that had been intimidated out of their homes. ‘This community needed a safe place, with the doors open and the lights on.’ He recalls the attempts of north Belfast’s small Jewish community to facilitate dialogue in the Somerton Road synagogue, laughing at the irony of ‘jews bringing christians together.’

Just before Christmas 1971, the IRA bombed a furniture showroom. Good recalls ‘digging babies out of the wreckage.’ Two-year-old Tracey Munn and her 17-month-old cousin, Colin Nicholl, were crushed to death. ‘I wasn’t isolated in an ivory tower. I know the pain inflicted by terrorists.’ Part of his ministry included terrorists. He was a part-time chaplain in Crumlin Road prison, and ministered to two of the Shankill butchers.

A move to Ballynahinch was controversial among some of his new congregation. ‘There was hostility from evangelicals’ who felt he was ‘too ecumanist.’ Although some left, his congregation doubled, becvause ‘people wanted openness and reconciliation.’ His philosophy is that of the Methodist founder, John Wesley, who exhorted his followers to be ‘friends of all and enemies of none.’

He later ministered in East Belfast to many police families, and has told many RUC wives that they had become widows. Although among ‘some very influential people’ – the protestant professional classes ‘who kept this place going and from going over the edge’, he felt he ‘had pulled away from the cutting edge.’ Late in the 70s, he started his involvement with republicans, in a discreet dialogue experiment that continued for two decades. He was also heavily involved in the reconciliation work of the Corrymeela community.

He worked with prisoners and their families (loyalist and republican), and the strong personal relationships and trust he developed helped him get the IRA to apologise on the 30th anniversary of Bloody Friday.

The apology came after Good was approached by Tom Donnolly, whose sister, Margaret O’Hare, was among the nine people killed during a 20-bomb spree on 21 July 1972. Good insisted that Donnolly accompany him to meet ‘highly placed republicans, who were clearly impressed by the way Tom asked for the apology.’ But, like this week, some onlookers were unimpressed. ‘Sadly, some people felt it was partial, because they apologised for civilian deaths, or that they thought it was attached to some political initiative.’

The key, according to Good, ‘is the basis of trust.’ Soon after, such trust was used by Good to persuade the IRA to remove a memorial to three Provos who had died near Belleek. ‘The memorial caused huge offence to the families of victims.’ It took time, but the IRA relented. ‘The lesson I learnt from the years is this; patience, patience.’

He also has learnt that ‘there is a time for aggressiveness, political activity and aggressive demands. Honest relationships much have both, patience and aggressiveness, for the building of trust.’

He brought people involved in the South African Truth Commission to NI in 1999, and is part of Healing Through Remembering, a project that is about getting victims and perpetrators to tell their stories. This projact is presently working to recommendations for a truth commission for NI, and thorny issues such as memorialising the conflict.

Good is also aware that every act of reconciliation, acknowledgement and forgiveness can feel like a slap in the face to some of the survivors of real trauma. He refuses to dismiss that hurt, as being part of the ‘past’, as some republicans are wont to do. And imagining being in those shoes is not difficult.

Good was in Germany on Bloody Friday, and heard on the news that a teenage son of a clergyman had been killed on the Cavehill Road, the same bomb that killed Margaret O’Hare. ‘We lived near there and my son used to go to those shops.’ He spent five frantic hours trying to ring home, before discovering that the murdered boy was Stephen Parker, son of the peace campaigner the Rev Joe Parker. ‘I honestly don’t know how I would have responded. So there’s no way I could dismiss those who are angry and bitter.’

His brother Peter was the Methodist minister in Omagh in 1998. Due to retire that autumn, he stayed on an extra year to help with the aftermath of suffering, and died three weeks before his postponed retirement. Good says that the bomb killed his brother, explaining that ‘ministers have to absorb grief and pain.’

Harold Good is determined to ‘continue with my reconciling ministry’ and in the only reference he could make to his witnessing of the IRA’s weapons being scrapped, said ‘I was asked. What else could my answer be?’

  • DaithiO

    That’s a very nice piece by John O’Farrell, a eulogy in fact but, if Rev. Harold Good is even half the man that this suggests, then it’s even more outrageous that the DUP dismiss him as being guilty of a “cover up”.

  • smcgiff

    Good by name, good by nature.

    I wonder, if each one of us had the misfortune to pull the crushed bodies of a 2 year old and a 17 month old from rubble would we:-

    A./ Do anything to stop terrorist violence, even to the point of talking to terrorists?
    B./ Ever condemn someone for talking to terrorists in an attempt to bring about a decommissioning?

    It’s very uplifting to hear of such people, who generally get on with their work outside of public gaze.

    Why is it that the rioters grab all the headlines?

    ‘I was asked. What else could my answer be?’

    A perfect question for the REVEREND Ian Paisley.

  • J Kelly

    has anyone heard the dup response since they met Rev Good and Father Reid last week. maybe i have missed it but to me the silence if deafening.

  • Baluba

    Fair play to him. A good man by all accounts. It’s sad that he’s been labelled a ‘lundy’ by some.

  • joc

    A very well written tribute in stark contrast to some of the bile that has been uttered in the last week or so.

  • Brian Boru

    Paisley says where are the photographs. Where are the photographs of the resurrection yet he tells followers of his church that it happened. Where are the witnesses? Where’s the photos? I know….must be a cover up…:)

  • SeamusG

    We need to spend more time singing the unsung heroes.
    In a society where negativity abounds, it’s great to read stories like these.

  • Mickhall

    has anyone heard the dup response since they met Rev Good and Father Reid last week. maybe i have missed it but to me the silence if deafening.

    Posted by: J Kelly

    Well spotted, the DUP does seem to have gone all silent since this meeting, lets hope this is a good sign.

    regards.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I hadn’t heard of Good before I saw him being interviewed on the news following the announcement of the disarmament. He gives a feeling of gentle sincerity and integrity which I personally feel engenders trust. It’s hard for me to understand why anyone would feel that he would lie or allow himself to be duped for the IRA’s benefit.

    smcgiff, I agree and have always thought it strange that it is many of the victims or relatives of victims who themselves make the first moves to reach across the divide. Gordon Wilson is the most prominent example, but there others. There is one person I remember reading about who lost his wife and child in the Shankill bomb who plays a prominent role in trying to improve cross-community relations including talking to the republicans behind the attack. It’s funny how the people who shout the loudest about victims and hurt are the ones who are the furthest away from the damage caused.

    Mick/J Kelly, I suspect the DUP are plotting their next move. The smear attempts on the credibility of Good and the IICD were ill-judged and clearly a disaster. In the meantime, I’m wondering what the DUP were at – there was a tremendous opportunity for them to claim that their work had paid off, albeit a year or two later than it should have.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I’m wondering what the DUP were at

    That should have been “I’m wondering what the UUP were at”..

  • levee

    Great post. I despise it when people assassinate this man’s character without looking at his background.

    That other prominent man of the cloth, Mr Paisley, could learn a lot from Harold Good – a man who has taken great steps in helping Northern Ireland along a peaceful path.

  • slug

    I heard reports that Father Reid and Dr Paisley had a very meaningful conversation at that meeting, the former possibly reassuring the latter on some issues. (Interestingly, Reid not Good).

  • Comrade Stalin

    slug, I’d like to think so, but I don’t think Paisley even wants to be reassured. It suits a lot of people perfectly to believe that the IRA remain a serious threat.

  • kay

    I am deeply humbled after reading Rev Good’s interview with John O”Farrell. It is wonderful to know we have such people of faith helping to make peace between the people of Northern Ireland and perhaps an encouragement to the rest of us that continue to hold on to “old hurts” as we continue to blast the darkness instead of lighting a small candle. To the media, please seek and report on those people who walk the path of Rev Good and indeed, Rev Reid and I am sure many other “ordinary” people who do an extraordinary job of holding our beautiful part of the world together inspite of what we read in the newspapers.
    Thanks to Slugger for giving us a forum to acknowledge such people.

  • Jo

    ‘I honestly don’t know how I would have responded. So there’s no way I could dismiss those who are angry and bitter.’

    The man has a comprehension of victimhood, summarised by his saying that. Those who have a bitterness have expressed that bitterness against him, but I suspect that he made an im pression on the DUP at their meeting with him.

  • darthrumsfeld

    So he’s a nice bloke. We’re all agreed on that.

    But sometimes a nice bloke goes along with something that’s wrong because he’s too, er nice to put his foot down.

    He agreed to be a “witness”, but in the framework that he could never give evidence of what he had seen. That can only be regarded as a cop out. And a moment’s consideration muct have made that obvious.So he’s not a witness; he’s a facilitator for this part of the Provos’ agenda.

    The jury-us- has an absolute right to hear what he says , and judge if it is credible before reaching our verdict, otherwise his evidence is useless. He’s simply relying on his reputation to require us to suspend our own judgment. Did he for instance see the 200 personal protection weapons widely reported to have been kept back for leading Provos ?

    There is of course an exact parallel -generally not approved of by posters here I imagine. If a senior policeman in Dublin says he know’s someone is a member of an illegal organisation then that is enough to obtain a conviction, even though he can’t be challenged on the basis for his knowledge.

    Or indeed when Lord Balderdice tells us all the bad things paramilitary organisations have got up to in the next IMC report we must automatically accept it because he’s a peer of the realm, and not go bellyaching about how he’s been duped by those naughty securocrats.

    Consistency. It’s such a btch, eh?

  • Jo

    “He’s simply relying on his reputation to require us to suspend our own judgment. “

    This is arrant nonsense, which sneers at the man and implies that he is bluffing. He has witnessed decommissioning and has the standing, along with others, to convince of its completeness. But there is no pleasing the unpleasable.

  • darthrumsfeld

    So if he tells us he’s seen space aliens from Mars next week you’ll believe him and not want to see it yourself then jo?

  • Jo

    Darth:

    Mockery is not an argument.

    Whats so scary about a pro-Agreement Protestant cleric with credibility? Oh I see Ive answered my own question.

    Unionists mock this man because they fear being labelled sectarian if they call a Catholic priest a liar. Well, both men are saying the same thing about what theyve seen. It may be camoflaged sectarianism but it isnt very effective.

  • darthrumsfeld

    Oh catch a grip jo
    I would be saying the same thing if Rev David Mccaughey was trotted out as a witness-which actually would have been easier for the Provos to sell to sceptical Unionists , and would have by itself helped convince us they were serious.

    But isn’t it interesting how you place Rev Good’s perceived politics to the front of your reason for believing him. He’s pro-Agreement, so you want to believe him. Judge a witness on what he says, not what he is. And this man is allowed to say nothing.

    Simple question:
    Wouldn’t you rather trust your own eyes? Or as a second best, wouldn’t you want to be able to hear the testimony of the witness yourself? Or even whatever the DUP heard in their private meeting with Good and Reid- which for all we know might be a lot?
    What exactly do you know-other than that you want to believe Rev Good- and frankly, who doesn’t?

  • Jo

    Darth:

    Other Unionist critics of the Rev. have used his attitude to the GFA as a stick to beat him. The bandwagon of abuse and snideness was rolling quickly last week according to plan, then it was realised that the man was in fact convincing and it was rather unconvincing simply to trot out the hackneyed “Lundy” cries.

    Integrity means keeping your word, even if you give it to bad men.

  • darthrumsfeld

    Integrity, surely, means not giving your word to bad men, and becoming beholden to them.

    And how about answering the question?