You can’t escape the influence of the wandering Irishman

Tue, Nov 12, 2013, 01:00

You cannot get away from the Irish. Let us say you tire of the rat race and have yourself transported back 100-plus years to the Far East and cocoon yourself in a Buddhist monastery.

One day you go to listen to a famous Buddhist preacher called Dhammaloka. You hear him denouncing Christian missionaries as purveyors of “the Bible, the whiskey bottle and the Gatling gun”.

This doesn’t sound awfully Buddhist to you. And could Dhammaloka be speaking with a Dublin accent? Surely you have got away from all that?

You are listening to Larry O’Rourke from Dublin or Laurence Carroll or William Colvin (he used all three names) who is one of the best-known Buddhist monks in the Far East and, according to Prof Brian Bocking of UCC, the first westerner to become a Buddhist monk.

In so far as it’s known, he left Dublin around 1870, worked on railroads and steamers in the US, got a job on a shipping line plying between the US and Japan, was thrown off the ship in Yokohama for being drunk and made his way to Rangoon where he encountered Buddhism and became a monk.

His opposition to Christian missionaries got him into trouble on occasion. He was denounced for these activities by a newspaper edited by a Kerryman and tried in a court presided over by a Corkman. It’s thought he might have died in Bangkok around 1914.

I found out about Dhammaloka at but I also recommend a UCC video on YouTube ( in which Prof Bocking explains the Dhammaloka story with admirable clarity.

Became a man
Another Irish Buddhist monk of great interest was Sramanera Jivaka, aka Michael Dillon, born in 1915 as sister to the Baronet of Lismullen in Meath and who, through the use of plastic surgery, became a man – said to be the first modern example of a female to male transition.

Outed by the British tabloids, he fled to India and went on from there to enter a Buddhist monastery. To learn more, visit an online exhibition on links between Ireland and Buddhist Asia, put up by the Library of NUI Maynooth (

By the way, three people identified themselves as Buddhists in the 1901 census: a woman in Dublin, a male “Hindoo Buddhist” in Munster and a man in Galway.

Sheila from Cork sends this beautiful email in response to a recent column suggesting that romantic love is a flawed concept that may do more harm than good: (Does it exist or is ‘true’ love a big fat lie? 22nd October).

“I would like to put an opposite view to you when you implied that romantic love is a myth or at least those who experience it are foolish and you admitted you are a curmudgeon about true love.

“Even after 44 years of knowing my husband, 42 years married to him, my heart still gave a leap if I met him unexpectedly or when his key turned in the door on his return from wherever. We had our separate lives too and I have many friends with whom I socialise apart from the time I spent with my husband.

“I give you an interesting quote from the film Inventing the Abbotts – ‘some people you love no matter what, some people you love if the situation is right. The best kind of love is the ‘no matter what kind’.’

“I was always a strong woman although I now know it was also due to the fact he was at my back and since he died two years ago I feel a huge void in my life. Maybe the only bad thing about experiencing deep romantic love is the pain of its absence.”

A beautiful message indeed. I might point out I am a curmudgeon about romantic love, not about true love. Other than that, I am silenced.
Padraig O’Morain is a counsellor accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.

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