Peace campaigner to be interred with his son

Rev Joe Parker
Rev Joe Parker

Rev Joe Parker, who died in his home in Vancouver, Canada, was founder of the Witness for Peace movement in Northern Ireland.

The movement, which was set up in the 1970s, was born out of the indiscriminate murders of Bloody Friday, 1972, when the IRA exploded 22 bombs within a one-mile radius of Belfast city centre.

Nine people were killed in the explosions, among them Rev Parker’s son Stephen, who was just 14 years old. Many others were maimed and suffered life-changing injuries as a result of the bombings.

Rev Parker later spoke of how he had to identify his son through the remains of a hand, a belt and a box of boys’ ‘trick matches’ in his pocket.

It is believed that Stephen had been trying to warn others of a car bomb in a residential area in North Belfast when it exploded.

Following the tragic family loss, Rev Parker, who was Chaplain to the Missions to Seamen in the port of Belfast, sought to bring about peace and reconciliation.

Initially he held an all-night vigil outside Belfast City Hall as part of his personal campaign for peace in the aftermath of Bloody Friday, and by 1975 had founded the Witness for Peace movement.

A vigil outside the GPO in Dublin and peace marches were part of the activities of the movement, which soon attracted like-minded people who wanted to see peace restored and reconciliation in the province.

Rev Parker, who emigrated to British Columbia with his family in 1975, was born in County Kilkenny in the Republic of Ireland in October 1928. Following a career in business he felt a calling for the Church and studied Theology at Trinity College in Dublin, being ordained in 1962.

He was appointed curate at St Donard’s Church, Bloomfield, in Belfast and joined the Missions to Seamen society in March 1964.

A few months later he was appointed as Chaplain in Belfast and served in that role until 1973.

In an interview in the Vancouver Sun in 1993, Rev Parker noted that his peace activities did not always win support.

He was quoted as saying “We held services for everybody, soldiers, IRA, everybody, all the dead... A lot of people in my own church didn’t approve of what we were doing. I was asked by my Bishop if I would confine my peace activities to my day off.”

In March 1975, Joe Parker was installed as Senior Chaplain of the Vancouver Missions to Seamen and he continued to hold this position until his retirement in 1993.

He and his wife Dorothy retired to live at Penticton, a town east of Vancouver which had been developed by Irishman Thomas Ellis in 1866.

A memorial service was held at St Saviour’s Anglican Church in Penticton and in accordance with his wishes, Rev Parker’s ashes will be brought back to Northern Ireland and interred with the remains of his son Stephen.

Donations in memory of the Rev Parker have been encouraged to the Stephen Parker Memorial Trust at the City of Belfast School of Music, which awards an annual prize for best all-round progress in the youth orchestra.

Stephen was a student of the City of Belfast School of Music and played French horn in the City of Belfast Youth Orchestra.

Rev Parker is survived by his wife Dorothy, son Roger, who is a Church of England rector in Lancashire, daughter Karen, grandchildren Andrew and Heather and his brother, Lovell.