Duke’s contribution to peace in Ireland recalled at Special Service in St Columb’s Cathedral

The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe has recalled the late Prince Philip’s contribution to peace in Ireland as one of The Duke of Edinburgh’s many legacies. His remark came during his sermon at a Special Service in St Columb’s Cathedral, Londonderry on Friday evening, marking the death of His late Royal Highness.

A socially-distanced congregation and people watching online, heard the Dean of Derry, Very Rev Raymond Stewart, describe the Service as an occasion when Church, city and community came together to remember a great and a good man. “This evening,” the Dean said, “we thank God for Prince Philip’s long life – two months and one day short of 100 years – his commitment to Her Majesty as a husband for over 73 years; we remember his sense of duty and loyalty to his Queen and country, as well as his association with many charities, particularly his involvement with The Duke of Edinburgh Award since its inception in 1956. We recognise his long service to this nation and all the nations of the Commonwealth. We rejoice in the Christian faith by which he lived and in which he died.”

The Dean welcomed representatives of other Churches in the city, as well as representatives of political and civic life, among them the Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District, Cllr Brian Tierney; Her Majesty’s Vice-Lord Lieutenant for the City of Londonderry, Stuart Keys; the Clerk to the Lieutenancy of the County Borough of Londonderry, Alan Moore; the High Sheriff for the County Borough of Londonderry, Linda Heaney; and Lord Hay of Ballyore. The Lord Lieutenant for the City of Londonderry, Dr Angela Garvey, and her husband Gerald were unable to attend and sent their apologies, as did the Foyle MP Colum Eastwood and Foyle MLA Gary Middleton.

In his sermon, Rt Rev Andrew Forster said they had gathered to give thanks for an extraordinary life and an extraordinary influence right across the world. Bishop Andrew recalled how, as a baby, Prince Philip had been rescued with his family from political turmoil in Greece and how he had been carried off in a cot made from an orange box into exile. “The next years are well documented, characterised by disruption, break-up, grief and misfortune. When he joined the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, whether by his wry sense of humour or the reality, when he registered he signed up as ‘Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, of no fixed abode.’

“Yet this young man, from such a fractured and disrupted background, would go on to ingrain himself in the consciousness of our country and Commonwealth, and transform the lives of many through his deep commitment to improve lives. In some way, Prince Philip could be seen as the Good Samaritan who was not prepared to pass by on the other side when he saw people whose lives he could help change for the better. And perhaps that commitment was borne out of his early hardship.

Bishop Andrew referred a number of times in his sermon to the naval command, ‘Action Stations’, which summons all hands to battle stations on warships and which will be played by buglers as The Duke’s body is laid to rest in the royal vault at Windsor Castle. “As a naval officer he would have heard the sound, ‘Action Stations’ during his distinguished career in the Second World War – mentioned in dispatches, saved his own ship from certain destruction – and on The Queen’s accession to the throne in 1952, when he had to walk away from his beloved career, it was again as if ‘Action Stations’ had been sounded, as his life of seemingly perpetual action and motion shifted to dedication in supporting The Queen. There was no job description, there was no one to tell him what he should do or shouldn’t do, and he carved his way in making life better for those whom he served, and in dutiful care and love for our sovereign Queen.”

Bishop Andrew said the qualities of Prince Philip’s life had been spoken of at length over the past week: duty, service, diligence, discipline, straightforwardness and straight-talking. Many had said that Prince Philip’s greatest legacy was The Duke of Edinburgh Award – a scheme borne out of his desire to improve lives and make people’s lives better.

“There are many facets of his remarkable legacy,” the Bishop said, “and perhaps all of us would choose different things that we would say about his legacy and that we would celebrate – war hero, innovator, whatever it might be – but perhaps his greatest legacy of all is as the man who walked a few paces behind The Queen, and was always right behind her, physically and emotionally: with her, supporting her, guiding her, loving her, caring for her, always at ‘Action Stations’ to support Her Majesty.

“As The Queen herself said on their 50th wedding anniversary, he was her strength and stay all these years, the man behind perhaps one of the greatest monarchs in history, her liege man of life and limb, always ready to use the soft power for the greater good, including building peace in this island. A man who was prepared to put aside in many ways his own great grief at the loss of his uncle in the Troubles, to reach out, to try to do the best to help this island to move to better days – again the desire to make life better for people.”

Bishop Andrew described The Duke of Edinburgh as a man of deep faith. He said that Prince Philip and The Queen had sought to live their lives in the public gaze by the principles of Almighty God. “Tomorrow, as he is laid to rest, at his request ‘Action Stations’ will be sounded. Tonight, we are thankful for a life lived at ‘Action Stations’; a life that is an example to each one of us; a very long life, remarkably lived; a life that made a difference in the lives of many; and a life that in some small way we can seek to mirror by making a difference for the good in the lives of those around us. ‘Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will by my children.’”

Dean Stewart was assisted during Friday evening’s Service by Rev Canon John Merrick and by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Derry, Rev Dr Donal McKeown, who gave the Scripture Reading. The Reverends Keith Hibbert (Presbyterian Church) and Paul Gallucci (Methodist Church) were in the congregation. Music at the Service was provided by the Gentlemen of the Choir. The organist and Master of the Choristers was Dr Derek Collins. At the end of the Service, the congregation left in an orderly fashion, consistent with COVID guidelines.

(The private photo of the Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh was shared by HM The Queen and taken by The Countess of Wessex)