The President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, was among mourners at the funeral of the former civil rights activist and SDLP founder, Ivan Cooper, in Londonderry this afternoon.
The Service – which was also attended by the Taoiseach’s Aide-de-Camp, Commandant Caroline Burke – took place in St Peter’s Church of Ireland in Londonderry, where Mr Cooper had worshipped regularly for the last ten years.
President Higgins signed a book of condolence as he was welcomed to the church by the Lord Lieutenant for the County Borough, Dr Angela Garvey, and by the Archbishop’s Commissary for the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe and Archdeacon of Derry, Venerable Robert Miller. Archdeacon Miller is the Rector of the Christ Church, Culmore, Muff and St Peter’s Group of Parishes and he conducted the funeral service along with the Group’s Pastoral Director, Rev Kate McAteer.
Mr Cooper’s coffin was draped in the Civil Rights Association’s flag and many of his fellow activists from 1960s were in church for the Service, along with the Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District, Cllr Michaela Boyle, and politicians from both sides of the border.
The mourners were led by Mr Cooper’s widow, Frances, and his daughters Sinéad and Bronagh.
In his sermon, Archdeacon Miller described Mr Cooper – who died on Wednesday – as “a towering figure in Northern Ireland’s recent history,” and as “a man of faith” whose life was governed by that faith.
“Remember the Summary of the Law from St Mark’s Gospel? ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength,’ and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Over these last ten years [of Mr Cooper’s illness] these commandments – what Christ regarded as the greatest commandments – summarised how Ivan sought to live out his faith.
“People were equal in God’s sight and were to be treated as such in any society that was to honour God. Ivan, in his life, sought to build that society by meeting people, talking to them, breaking down barriers and developing relationships, building trust, fostering friendships, and he was challenging attitudes as well, changing minds and working with others was in the heart of who he was. It was the shape of his politics.”
Archdeacon Miller acknowledged that Ivan Cooper had been a controversial and even divisive figure in some people’s eyes. But in advocating for civil rights and joining the Sunningdale power-sharing executive, one could argue that Ivan Cooper was a man ahead of his time.”
The Rector said Mr Cooper challenged people, from whatever part of the community they came, and did so for the right reasons and with the best of motives. He wanted the future to be better than the past.
“Today we remember Ivan with affection and love, and we give thanks for his life. But let’s not leave it at that. When we go from this church this afternoon, the best thing we can do – the best thing all of us can do – is finish the job that Ivan Cooper dedicated most of his life to: the task of building a better community.
“To celebrate his life, we must echo his voice, and be utterly, unequivocally committed to a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Northern Ireland.
“So, let’s make Ivan’s vision a reality. Let’s make politics work.”