An outstanding witness to the motto ‘God is our courage’

Bishop Fiachra Ó Ceallaigh, a skilled hurler from Co Clare, died aged 84

On his profession as a Franciscan, Sean Óg  took the name Fiachra. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill

On his profession as a Franciscan, Sean Óg took the name Fiachra. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill


Bishop Fiachra Ó Ceallaigh

Born: August 18th 1933.

Died July 30th 2018.

Fiachra Ó Ceallaigh, who has died aged 84 after a long illness, became the first Franciscan friar to serve as a member of the Irish Episcopal Conference in more than 700 years when he was appointed an auxiliary bishop of the Catholic archdiocese of Dublin.

A surprise choice of Pope St John Paul II in 1994, Bishop Ó Ceallaigh, from “the Banner county” in the West of Ireland, personified the church side of the State’s intimate alliance with Fianna Fáil which dominated Irish politics until recent times.

Ó Ceallaigh featured in the Commission of Investigation Report into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin in July 2009 – more popularly known as the Murphy Commission into clerical child abuse and subsequent cover-ups by church authorities: he emerged as the least censured of the diocesan assistants to Cardinal Desmond Connell, though in two cases the report found he had been insufficiently briefed by the cardinal and colleagues on the insidious depravity of two unnamed priests he supervised.

Born in Ennis, Co Clare, he was reared in a Fianna Fáil household by his mother Eibhlín and his father, Sean, whom he was named after, Both parents mixed loyalty to the local Fianna Fail TD, Éamon de Valera, with admiration for the Bishop of Killaloe, Michael Fogarty, who survived an assassination attempt by the Black and Tans during the War for Independence for his outspoken opposition to partition and conscription.

Skilled hurler

Educated by the local Christian Brothers, he was a skilled hurler. Sean Óg entered the Order of Franciscan Friars in Killarney after completing his Leaving Certificate. On his profession as a Franciscan, he took the name Fiachra. Next, he went to UCG, where he studied Irish and Celtic studies before going abroad for yet further studies in Louvain and in Rome, adding a HDip on the way. He was ordained on July 2nd, 1961.

In 1963 he was appointed to Gormanston College, Co Meath, where he taught Irish, history and geography. While there, he studied for a degree at UCD in Social Science and an MSc at Queens Belfast.

Meanwhile, his father was elected Fianna TD for Clare at a by-election in July 1959, succeeding Dev who had been elected President of Ireland. Sean senior was re-elected in the 1961 and 1965 general elections but retired in 1969.

In July 1987 Fiachra was elected Provincial superior of the Franciscan Order, serving two terms, during which he developed close ties between the friars and people in the parishes, until his appointment as Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin in 1994. He was assigned by Cardinal Connell to the Inner City and South City episcopal area. From his residence in Rialto he engaged in housing regeneration projects as well as services for drug and alcohol addicts. With Fr Padraig O Cochlain, parish priest in Athy, he set up Coiste Treadach, the diocesan pastoral council for the Irish language.

As a member of the staff and governing body of Mater Dei college in Drumcondra, he negotiated on behalf of the diocese to widen its degree course to include secular subjects as well as religion.


Specially memorable days mixing sacramentality and sentimentality for Ó Ceallaigh were those as chief celebrant at the State funeral for Taoiseach Jack Lynch, in 1999, when he lauded the former Cork hurler as “a man of strength and peace”; and as presider, in 2008, at the removal of the remains to the Pro-Cathedral of fellow Clareman and former president, Dr Patrick Hillery, whom he had known for 57 years.

After his retirement in 2009, he returned to Gormanston to recuperate from illness, and later was cared for by the Little Sisters of the Poor in Dublin’s Roebuck nursing home.

On news of his death, Archbishop Diarmuid described him as an outstanding witness to the motto he took on his episcopal appointment Dia Ár Misneach (God is our courage).

Primate of All Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin, recalled that his interest in “the plight of asylum seekers and refugees was always to the fore at bishops’ meetings’.

After requiem Mass on Thursday at the Pro-Cathedral, Ó Ceallaigh’s remains were returned to Ennis’s Franciscan Friary for a second Requiem Mass on Friday followed by burial in a family plot in Lisseycasey.