Fr Jim O’Donoghue obituary: Priest who imparted joy and was Kerry to his core

Lives Lost to Covid-19: Well-travelled cleric remembered as a kind and uplifting man

Lives Lost: Fr Jim O’Donoghue

Lives Lost: Fr Jim O’Donoghue


This article is one of a series about people who have died with coronavirus in Ireland and among the diaspora. Read more at If you would like a friend or family member included in the series, please email

Fr Jim O’Donoghue


Fr Jim O’Donoghue on his daily walks to get his copy of The Irish Times or, when he was lucky enough to find one, the Kerryman, was an easy and willing mark for those living rough along the Rathmines Road in Dublin or on Castle Street in Belfast.

The homeless, whether in inner city Belfast or in Rathmines, knew the priest well and he knew them in turn by name. He was always ready for a chat and to hand out a few euro or pounds.

His good friend and contemporary, Fr John Nevin, remembers Fr Jim’s personal touch and how a kind word expressed face-to-face could “lift up the heart” of people in straitened circumstances. That was part of his daily pattern late in his life. And it was a well-lived life.

He was born in Caherciveen on May 27th, 1934. One of 10 children, he had a wry, dry sense of humour and a warm and quietly engaging personality that was Kerry to the core. From an early age he knew he wanted to be a priest.

He was ordained a Mill Hill Missionaries priest in London in 1958. He served in Ireland, the United States, Holland, London, the Philippines, finally ending up in Belfast, before retiring to the Mill Hill Fathers home in Rathgar, Dublin, in 2016.

He achieved a master’s degree in history in the Catholic University at St Louis in the US and, in 1962, he was appointed to work at Saint Anthony’s College, San Jose, in Antique province in the Philippines. The third-level institute had only opened three years earlier and Fr Jim was heavily involved in laying the foundations for the college, and is still very fondly remembered there.

At times too in the Philippines he had to navigate the difficulties of regular periods of martial law.

In 2006, aged 71, and after what would be well beyond normal retirement for most people, he went to work in St Mary’s Church in Belfast city centre to deliver 10 more years of service – a period of his life he looked back upon with considerable happiness.

As with many missionaries he tended to be on the liberal wing of the church, investing great hope in Pope Francis. He had a deep knowledge of theology, philosophy and psychology but wore his learning lightly. His sermons, as Fr Nevin also recalled, were short and to the point – “never more than four or five minutes but always hitting the nail on the head”.

He dealt with the ways of the world in his stride and as it changed he didn’t despair but felt maybe the church must adapt to keep faith with the people in order for people to keep the faith.

In Belfast he once got told off by now retired Bishop of Down and Connor Patrick Walsh over his tendency to wear casual clothes. Only on the most formal of occasions would you see him with clerical collar. The bishop and the priest made up and became friends, sometimes basing their conversations on the neutral subject of Munster rugby rather than priestly garb. Still, Fr Jim kept to the informal look.

He was loved by his brothers and sisters and a litany of nephews, nieces and cousins going back a few generations. To declare an interest, I’m one of those cousins, and on visits to our home in Belfast he passed on wonderful stories about the Moriartys and O’Donoghues, respectively from Inch and Caherciveen in Kerry, maintaining a narrative for more generations to pass on, providing roots and connections that are important to families.

He was just over a month shy of his 86th birthday when he was caught by Covid-19. He died on April 14th. It’s not a bad innings but anyone who ever encountered Fr Jim O’Donoghue knew him as a cleric much younger in attitude, energy and spirit than his years, a man with much more to give, and a priest who imparted joy and fought the good fight to the end.

Covid-19: Lives Lost