Eddie McGrady RIP

This evening veteran politician and SDLP founder Eddie McGrady passed away aged 78.

Eddie McGrady Enoch PowellHe was a councillor on Downpatrick Urban Council and Down District Council. In 1987 be defeated Ulster Unionist Enoch Powell (at his fourth attempt) and served as South Down MP until 2010.

His South Down successor Margaret Ritchie paid tribute to her “mentor and colleague [and] a very good friend”:

Eddie was an inspiration to a generation of politicians and a true advocate for the community of South Down.

She added:

Eddie was a great campaigner and he gave his and future generations the confidence that politics and campaigning can bring about change locally and regionally through his role in the peace process.

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said that “with the death of the veteran politician Ireland had lost a person of faith and integrity”. The MP described his colleague as “a great patriot and a great democrat”.

Today, the SDLP has lost one of its founding pillars. County Down has lost a great champion and Ireland has lost a person of faith and integrity who enhanced public life in a political career that lasted almost half a century. As a founding member of the SDLP, Eddie helped to shape not only our party, but history, as he along with John Hume, Seamus Mallon and others helped to define the politics of an era and build the peace of our lifetime.

Last weekend’s SDLP conference was only the second ever that Eddie McGrady had missed. Alasdair McDonnell broke away from his script and spoke emotionally during his Saturday lunchtime address, finishing with a message to the young members at conference from the SDLP veteran’s hospital bed. While the senior politicians could reorganise and reposition the party leader explained that told him “the real challenge falls to today’s twenty five or thirty year olds who must pick up the gauntlet and rise to the challenge of finishing the job. That job was creating a New Ireland, prosperous and at peace with itself”. Eddie McGrady said

Don’t worry about me. Don’t mourn for me. Don’t cry for me. Just get out there and finish the job.

Former leader John Hume paid tribute to his “dear friend”:

Eddie was a man of deep faith incredible fortitude and considerable courage. He brought a sharp political instinct to all his work displaying both talent and tenacity throughout a distinguished career stretching 50 years in public service.  He will be rightfully remembered for his 1987 election victory over Enoch Powell but we should not forget his unswerving devotion to peace and his substantial contribution towards the new beginning to policing.  Eddie served the constituency of South Down which he loved with distinction but above all Eddie was a family man happiest at his home in Saul in Downpatrick.

Margaret Ritchie Eddie McGradyEddie McGrady was predeceased by his wife Patricia in 2003. Margaret Ritchie extended her sympathy to “his daughter Paula, sons Jerome and Conaill , his sister Marie, his brother Malachy and wider family circle”.

Tributes have been given by other politicians and political parties:

  • Mike Nesbitt/UUP leader: “Eddie McGrady, Seamus Mallon and John Hume were a formidable team at a time when Northern Ireland needed strong leadership from both communities speaking out loudly against violence …He was a popular politician whose appeal crossed the traditional divide. Our thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues in the Social Democratic and Labour Party.”
  • Ivan Lewis/Labour shadow Secretary of State: “Eddie McGrady was a tireless campaigner for social justice and peace in Northern Ireland. His beliefs and political leadership played a crucial role in helping to lay the foundations for the peace process. He was a great colleague and friend of many in the Labour Party and will be greatly missed by all who knew him.”
  • Chris Hazzard/Sinn Fein: “Thoughts with Eddie McGrady’s family & friends on their sad loss today – I appreciated his kind words when I last met him in Downpatrick”
  • John McCallister/NI21: “Very sad to hear of Eddie McGrady’s passing. A true gentleman an honour and pleasure to know. He made a huge contribution to South Down and NI.”
  • Christopher Stalford/DUP councillor: “Saddened to hear of the passing of Eddie McGrady. He was a hard worker and a gentle personality. My sympathies to his friends and colleagues.”
  • Trevor Ringland/NI Conservatives co-chair: “Eddie McGrady was a faithful servant to people right across the community and a fearless proponent of constitutional politics, at a time when violent ideologies were emerging in Northern Ireland” adding “Northern Ireland badly needs the type of politician who works for everyone in our community, whatever their preference for the constitutional future here. Eddie McGrady will be remembered and respected for his contribution in that regard and his public service.”
  • Gerry Adams/Sinn Fein president: “Sad sceal Eddie McGrady. RIP. Go ndeanfaidh Dia trocaire air.”
  • David Ford/Alliance leader: “I was very saddened to learn of the passing of Eddie McGrady, who fought hard to bring an end to violence in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. The well-known MP was a fierce critic of those who used violence and murder as a means to delivering their political objectives … Mr McGrady worked hard for all his constituents. His tireless work went a great way to calming tensions in the area, helping create the more stable, peaceful Northern Ireland we have all experienced in recent years. His contribution to Northern Ireland politics has been great, both as a campaigner for peace and the desire to make a difference to the lives of those he represented.”
  • Jim Allister/TUV leader: “Condolences to Eddie McGrady’s family on his passing. Any dealings I had with him – mostly on fishing issues when MEP – he was very civil.”


  • David McCann

    My condolences to his family and the SDLP.

  • Charles_Gould

    Those words all sound very sincere, and deservedly so. I was a big fan of Eddie. He was an asset to the SDLP and his passing is a very sad day for the party and for me.

  • Barry the Blender

    Eddie was a good man. I’m very sorry to hear of his passing.

  • Rory Carr

    Eddie was the electoral voice of nationalism in East Down, as had been his uncle, also E.K. McGrady (“Big Ned”) who had preceded Eddie as leader of Downpatrick UDC. He was well liked and well regarded with few, if any, from either community to speak a word against him.


    Tonight my thoughts, like those of many, political friend or political foe, are with his family to whom I extend my deepest sympathies and to the surviving members of his family of origin.

    May he rest in peace.

  • Rory – if someone runs a thread in a few days time there’ll be space to analyse the ins and outs of Eddie’s political career – but not tonight.

  • Alan N/Ards

    A decent man. Sorry to hear of his death.

  • Comrade Stalin

    RIP Eddie.

  • ThomasPaine

    If only there were a few more Eddie McGrady’s around today, not just in politics but in every day life.

    As a south Down man I can say it may be a long time before we have another representative like him.

    Thoughts are with his family who can be immensely proud of Eddie’s work and of Eddie himself, who was very simply a good, decent man at a time when good, decent men were (and continue to be) few and far between.

  • Gopher

    RIP Eddie, moderation rarely had a finer champion.

  • Mick Fealty

    To be honest, I’d heard about Eddie McGrady long before I knew a thing about him. My aunt by marriage had grown up in Downpatrick and on those Sunday afternoons when we’d call to visit at her house in Bangor his name seemed never to be off her lips…

    He would have been chair of the Downpatrick Urban District Council back then, so his name would otherwise never have been heard in our family (believe it or not, we weren’t that big into politics).

    It was a time when councils were both more powerful than they are today, and a great deal more local. Nationalist majority Downpatrick was then also the seat of county government in unionist majority Co Down and it was a breeding for a confident middle class type of constitutional nationalist that brought forth solid and broadly respected figures like McGrady and the former Ombudsman and Senator Maurice Hayes.

    They learned the importance of getting things done properly and fairly, long before the conflict made politicians powerless bystanding observers and commentators to the politics of the street. It’s a knack that’s not yet re-acquired by the current class of politicians.

    Despite the lapse of modern politics into the cult of celebrity, McGrady seemed like a character from before the television age who was well liked, trusted and highly regarded by those who had dealings with him.

    It seems entirely in keeping with what’s been said about his character that he would have been encouraging even to someone who like Chris Hazzard had decided to take a different political bus to his own.

    That culture of work but more importantly a commitment to a common good across communal divides was rare enough in the days before the troubles began. As men like McGrady go they leave a gap that will be hard to fill.

  • Greenflag

    Sad news .NI needs all the competent politicians it can find .

    I have just one question re Eddie McGrady’s political career .Why did it take four elections to unseat Enoch Powell as MP for South Down given the large nationalist majority in that constituency ?
    Was it changed boundaries or division of the anti unionist vote in earlier elections that kept the seat in Enoch Powell’s hands ?

  • The original eight Stormont politicians who founded the SDLP would have remained a group of individuals if it had not been for the National Democrats who provided at least a basic form of organisation.
    As such Eddie McGrady was a key player.
    He was not in Stormont until 1973 …he had lost as usual the East Down election to Faulkner in 1969 and ironically there was an O’Neill Unionist in the field.
    But after the 1973 Election, Eddie had moved into the Top Six SDLP people.
    The point about South Down is well made. A SDLP heartland. And Eddie was very representative of it.
    Rest in Peace.

  • se4n

    I met Eddie once in and around 1994-1997, though I cannot be more specific with the year, I well remember the experience. Alastair McDonnell spoke at the SDLP Conference last weekend. I have a lot of respect for Alastair and watched. “Eddie is very low”, he said. I could feel his sense of feeling for a man close to his own heart. Brought back that memory of our brief, ‘insignificant’ meeting so long ago. He appeared in our office on Lisburn Road where I worked with Eamon Hanna. Anyway, Eddie came into our office, with, I believe, a nephew; though I could be wrong, but definitely a McGrady; asked, do you know where I could find a good accountant? – I had recently qualified and was working with Eamon – Well, having worked in Downpatrick for a couple of years, I well knew of the existence of Eddie McGrady, a competitor after all to Johnston and Quinn, for whom I was fortunate to work back then. I, ever the smart arse, replied, “you wont find a good accountant here, there’s only Eamon and me; he’s out and I’m not what I would call a good accountant. But, I continued, I do have it on good advice that you might want to take the road to Downpatrick – home of my own ancestors – and there’s a guy called McGrady, that is supposed to be good; came first place in the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland, I believe – though he would be the last to divulge. You might want to give him a call. It was the smile that lit up his modest face that I remember. I had clocked him and he knew it. Plus the accent, I loved the accent. And the modesty. Not to mention the fact that he had no expectation that I would know who he was or anything about him. Alastair said last Saturday, while Eddie was still in this life: “he had not a single sectarian bone in his body”. If anyone could sum up a man in a single sentence, that was it. God bless you Eddie McGrady, the quiet man of Northern Ireland politics. You can meet someone for a few minutes, once. They leave an impression on you that endures. Could we take a lesson from a man such as this? I will let each ask that of one self.

  • Mick Fealty

    Last word mentioned him on Friday afternoon… his obit on after John Taverners, and is well worth listening to, not least for a pretty glowing account from Jim Wells of the DUP…


  • se4n

    Indeed, Jim Wells. Jim gives a flavour of that respect that Eddie seemed to engender, without effort; design. For that was just the man he was. And Jim could see and was unashamed to acknowledge. Imagine, just for one moment what our tiny troubled geo-world would be like if we could take a little bit of McGrady with us to the NI Assembly, the Council Chambers. I made a video – youtube – I took it down – Why? Afraid of offending either side extremists video in early 2013, when Queen Elizabeth showed – at 86 years – how to reach out the hand of human empathy. Dare I say – LOVE. How that went down in Ireland, Britain, Northern Ireland. Beyond. There is hope, there is hope. Hearts, minds and time. Lots of time. My stupid video? OK Lets re-publish it. I think Mr McGrady may even smile from a place, close by, though far apart. Here’s hoping!