Development & Alumni Relations Office 


11 January 2018

Few public figures in the last 100 years have made such a wide-ranging contribution to local government, health, politics (in both Northern Ireland and the Republic), sport, culture and Queen’s University governance, as alumnus and honorary graduate, Dr Maurice Hayes.

Described by the Down Recorder (3rd January, 2018) as a “gifted scholar, an inspirational teacher, a committed public servant, a visionary sports administrator and a passionate believer in peace and reconciliation, plus much more”, Dr Hayes made a huge impact on his local community, Northern Ireland and further afield.

Growing up in County Down

Maurice Nugent Hayes was born in Killough, County Down in 1927, one of six in an affluent nationalist family. His father Michael, from County Waterford, had served in the Great War before heading north. While Michael was Town Clerk of Downpatrick, Maurice’s mother Margaret – who came from County Kerry – ran hotels, first in Killough and later in Downpatrick, where the famous Denvir’s Hotel was also the Hayes’ family home.

One of the first pupils at St Patrick’s Grammar School in Downpatrick (known locally as the Red High), Maurice would ultimately return to the school where he taught English and Irish before he too moved into local government.

Queen’s University Belfast

In an interview in the 1998 issue of the Queen’s University Association Annual Review on his becoming President-elect of the graduate group, Dr Hayes said: “I don’t remember much about the prospects of coming up to Queen’s, but I recall coming up to do an entrance exam and ending up on a tram for the Springfield rather than the Stranmillis Road! All I could remember at the time was that it began with an S!”

“I remember the soldiers coming back from war to study at Queen’s. Most of them were more mature than ‘ordinary’ students and many were married, which in itself was unusual. Those were Spartan times and difficult too for families.”

Maurice Hayes spent three years studying for the priesthood before graduating in 1948 with a BA in English Literature and later with a PhD. The ultimate Queensman, he was a former member of the University’s Senate, a member of the Research Ethical Committee in Queen’s Medical School, was awarded an honorary LLD in 1971 and served as President of the Queen’s University Association – now the Queen’s Graduates’ Association (QGA).

After graduating he was a teacher for 7 years before becoming Town Clerk in Downpatrick in 1955 on the death of his father. He would go on to spend 17 years in local government and a further 15 in the Northern Ireland Civil Service.

Civil Servant, Gaeilgeoir, cross-community figure, peacemaker, columnist, political analyst, author

In a remarkable working life that spanned over 60 years – including many after he officially retired (!) – Maurice Hayes was at one time Permanent Secretary in the Department of Health & Social Services (NI); was one of the first Catholics to hold the post of Northern Ireland Ombudsman; Chairman of the Community Relations Council NI; Assistant Secretary of the power-sharing Executive which collapsed following the Ulster Workers Council Strike; a Northern Ireland Boundary Commissioner; a Member of Independent Commission re Policing (Patten) and a former Chairman of the Acute Hospitals Review Group.

Chairman of the Ireland Funds Advisory Committee, Dr Hayes was frequently consulted on aspects of community life and the voluntary sector in Northern Ireland. A keen Irish speaker, he was also a Trustee of Iontaobhas na Gaelscolaiochta, a trust fund for Irish medium education.

In the media world he was a long-serving non-executive Director of Independent News and Media plc (once owned by Sir Anthony O’Reilly), serving as a member of the Scholarship Board of the O'Reilly Foundation; and a Director of Regtel, the Irish communications regulator.

In retirement he served as an Independent member of the 21st and 22nd Seanads (Ireland’s second chamber) in 1997 & 2002, having been nominated as a senator by the Taoiseach. He was also Chairman of the National Forum on Europe; a Member of the Royal Irish Academy; and Governor of the Linenhall Library in Belfast.

The holder of honorary degrees from five Irish universities and voted European Person of the Year in 2003, Maurice Hayes was the author of three volumes of memoires – Sweet Killough, Let Go Your Anchor (1995), Minority Verdict – Experiences of a Catholic Civil Servant (1995) and Black Puddings with Slim – A Downpatrick Boyhood (1996).

Gaelic sport

Away from work, Maurice Hayes was deeply involved with Gaelic sport, playing inter-county hurling for Down. It was, however, off the pitch where he made his greatest contribution to the GAA. 

Appointed secretary of the Down County Board in 1956 he is credited with the rise of Down Gaelic football. Thanks to his organisational genius, Down became a pre-eminent force in Ulster and Ireland football, winning three All-Ireland senior titles in the 1960s and bringing the Sam Maguire Cup north for the first time.

He left the County Board to concentrate on his career as a Northern Ireland public servant.


Among those to pay tribute to Dr Hayes was the Irish President Michael D. Higgins, who also attended his funeral service in Downpatrick on 27 December. President Higgins said: "He brought a strong commitment to a pluralist and inclusive vision of society to his work in Seanad Éireann (the Irish senate) and as Ombudsman for Northern Ireland.

"On behalf of the people of Ireland I send my sympathies and condolences to his family and friends."

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, former Northern Ireland Office minister Sir Richard Needham said Dr Hayes was “a really gigantic figure in public life in Northern Ireland”.

Sir Richard added: “We always say people will be missed but he will be missed with such wisdom and because he was listened to by everybody from every side of the community really.”

Current President of the QGA, Fergal McFerran said: “The Queen's Graduates' Association is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Dr Maurice Hayes who served as our President in 1999.

“He lived an exceptional life of service to others and he will be missed.”

And the former head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, Sir Kenneth Bloomfield (also a Queen’s honorary graduate and former member of the University’s Senate), said Dr Hayes was “a man of great fairness and broadness of mind”, adding “I personally will miss him very much and this society will miss him too.”

Diplomat and family man

A man of high principle, Maurice Hayes was deeply aware of the historic divisions in Northern Ireland society, though he managed to retain the friendship, respect and admiration of politicians from both sides of Northern Ireland’s divide during what was arguably the most difficult time in the history of the state. He earned the respect of all those he met and worked with.

Refusing at all times to distinguish between Catholic and Protestant – to him everyone was the same – he was at his ease with people of all classes and creeds. A consummate diplomat, Dr Hayes delighted in the good community relations he experienced in his early career in the Down district and believed they provided a blueprint for the future of Northern Ireland.

He was, however, very aware of the historical 'disconnect' between the nationalist community and policing. In the QUA Annual Review interview in the late 1990s, Dr Hayes cited his review of the police complaints system as perhaps his greatest contribution to peace and stability in Northern Ireland.

A devoted family man, Maurice married his wife Joan in July 1967 and with whom he had five children. At his funeral service the celebrant, Canon Sean Rogan, reminded the packed congregation that throughout his busy and extensive career Maurice Hayes was first and foremost a family man – his wife and children always came first and he delighted in all their achievements.

Dr Maurice Hayes died peacefully at Downe Hospital, Downpatrick on 23 December, 2017. He is survived by his wife, Joan, children Clodagh (Nick), Margaret (Keith), Dara (Jane), Garrett (Laoise) and Ronan (Laura), eight grandchildren, his sister Helen and the wider family circle. He was predeceased by his brother, Ray, and by sisters Joan, Claire and Carmel.

A Roman Catholic throughout his life, it is a measure of his standing in the local community that Maurice Hayes was buried in the graveyard of Down Cathedral, the Cathedral Church of the Church of Ireland, after Requiem Mass in the nearby St Patrick’s Church.

His was a life truly well lived.

General inquiries to Gerry Power, Communications Officer, Development and Alumni Relations Office; tel: +44 (0)28 9097 5321.


Portrait by Colin Davidson.


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