Fr Aidan Larkin played a leading role in development of SDLP

An Appreciation: Fr Larkin spent many years working in deprived areas in Chile

 

Fr Aidan Larkin, who played a leading role in the development of the SDLP and represented Mid Ulster in Stormont, led a varied and very fulfilling life.

He was born in Lissan, near Cookstown, Co Tyrone, where both parents were principals of primary schools. He thrived at St Patrick’s College Armagh, and later joined his brothers Sean and Patrick in Maynooth. He transferred to UCD where he graduated with a first class honours Masters in ancient classics. He then entered the Jesuit Novitiate in Emo.

He left the Novitiate after a year, returning to Magherafelt, Co Derry, where he took up teaching and joined the newly formed SDLP. He founded a branch of the party in Magherafelt and in 1972 he won a seat on Magherafelt Council. For him the SDLP incorporated the best features of non-violent republicanism and of nationalist constitutionalism. In 1973 alongside Ivan Cooper, a close friend, he was elected to represent Mid- Ulster in the Stormont Assembly which implemented the Sunningdale Agreement.

He saw the need to legislate for civil rights and equality and this led him to study law at Queen’s University and to practise at the Bar. As SDLP spokesman on legal affairs, he made several submissions on law, justice and rights issues and took one of the first successful anti- discrimination cases.

Bleak period

Sunningdale was destroyed by the Ulster Workers Council and the Provisional IRA. As he had warned, politics entered a bleak period of drift and stalemate, he was appalled by the violence.

Subsequently he was appointed to the legal service of the European Council in 1976, but gradually the idea of priesthood returned.

In 1981 he joined Clonliffe College, the diocesan seminary of the Archdiocese of Dublin and was ordained in 1985. He spent five happy years in Corpus Christi parish Drumcondra. He then worked in Chile as a diocesan associate with the Columban Fathers. He spent six years ministering in a deprived area of Santiago and built a church there, mainly with funds provided by his father.

He returned to Ireland and was appointed chaplain to Trinity College Dublin. In 2002 he joined the Columbans, returned to Chile and spent four years ministering in Alto Hospicio , a shanty town in Northern Chile. There he organised the provision of the first secondary school in the area.

Parkinson’s

In 2006 he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and returned to Ireland, to reside in the Columban Centre in Dalgan. He wrote Saint Columbanus Pilgrim for Christ and prepared the book St Patrick and the Fathers of the Church.

His final months were difficult but he bore them stoically.

His life was ultimately defined by his drive to know, love and serve God and his unwavering loyalty to the church and its teaching. He had many abilities. He was an accomplished scholar and linguist. He was a capable, thoughtful and inspiring politician. He could have built a career as a barrister or a European official. He was well read in theology and doctrine. One could imagine him as a key official of the Curia. Yet while he had his health he pursued a path that saw him instead putting his gifts at the service of the poor in a desert in Chile.

He died on March 31st and is survived by his brothers Father Sean and Father Patrick Larkin, his brother Colm and his sister Roisin.