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'Courage' Archbishop Desmond Tutu remembered as ‘a friend to Ireland’

He was ready to go to his God, and all we have to do is be grateful for such a wonderful, generous life,” Mary Robinson told Sky News.

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Bishop Desmond Tutu and former President Mary Robinson meet in Soweto near Johannesburg in 2013. Photo: Ben Curtis/AP

Bishop Desmond Tutu and former President Mary Robinson meet in Soweto near Johannesburg in 2013. Photo: Ben Curtis/AP

Bishop Desmond Tutu and former President Mary Robinson meet in Soweto near Johannesburg in 2013. Photo: Ben Curtis/AP

Former President Mary Robinson has paid tribute to the “deep spirituality and courage” of Archbishop Desmond Tutu following his death aged 90.

Mrs Robinson is chair of The Elders, a group of global leaders who work together for peace, justice and human rights and who counted anti-apartheid campaigner Archbishop Tutu as its first chair.

“He was ready to go to his God, and all we have to do is be grateful for such a wonderful, generous life,” Mrs Robinson told Sky News.

“I knew him long before he became chair of The Elders, but it was a special privilege to be with him at that time.”

Mrs Robinson said he was “so serious, but he also used humour in a particular way”.

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Archbishop Desmond Tutu speaking to children from St Joseph's School, Ballymun. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Archbishop Desmond Tutu speaking to children from St Joseph's School, Ballymun. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Archbishop Desmond Tutu speaking to children from St Joseph's School, Ballymun. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins


“I found it fascinating and I learned a lot,” she added. “He would make himself a bit ridiculous, maybe, he would make people laugh, then he would come in with the serious message when they were open because they had laughed with him, and then he would be serious, it was so skilful.”

The former UN High Commissioner said she had been inspired by how Archbishop Tutu formed a bond with young people.

“I was with him in New York on a panel and we were speaking to young people and ‘Arch’ was very excited, telling them he loved them, and then the moderator said quite sharply, ‘Archbishop Tutu, why are you such an optimist?’

“And he said, ‘Oh no, I’m not an optimist, I’m a prisoner of hope’.

“That phrase really struck me, as I know it did the young people listening, because hope is what you need to combat all the issues that he fought all his life for.”

President Michael D Higgins in his tribute to Archbishop Tutu said the world had lost not only a great spiritual leader but a great advocate for a society defined by compassion and kindness.

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He said Archbishop Tutu had emphasised hope and possibility and drew strength from his belief that “forgiveness has the potential to free an individual from the confines of past hurt”.

Archbishop Tutu would be forever remembered for his work in drawing global attention to the horrific inequalities of apartheid, he added.

President Higgins said his death would be mourned by all those who joined the anti-apartheid movement in Ireland, among them “those Dunnes Stores workers who took part in the strike against apartheid in the 1980s and to whom he often referred”.

“Indeed, many who will have valued Archbishop Tutu’s support for the strikes will in particular recall his meeting with striking workers Karen Gearon and Mary Manning, along with union official Brendan Archbold, at a stopover in London on his way to receiving the Nobel Prize in 1984.”

Taoiseach Micheál Martin described Archbishop Tutu as “a tireless campaigner for social justice and reconciliation”.

“He was the conscience of South Africa and beyond,” Mr Martin said.

“His unshakeable faith in humanity brought people together in Northern Ireland too, a vital part of our own peace process.”

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald also paid tribute yesterday, saying Archbishop Tutu’s life was “marked by a courageous determination to confront and oppose the injustice of apartheid in his beloved South Africa”.

She described him as “a friend to Ireland”, adding that he had “strongly supported the Irish peace process”.

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