Castleknock College Union

Bill Clarke, class '58

1941 - 2003

Oct 19, 2003
Bill Clarke, class '58 -


As the nurses at Marymount Hospice, Cork, were turning their patient, Fr Bill Clarke, on his side, he said his last words: a snatch of Irish, ‘Tá mé lán ar aon taobh, mar bhaile Fhear Muighe’ (‘I am all on one side, like the town of Fermoy’). The words took people’s fancy, both for their expression of Bill’s essential light-heartedness, and, at least in my case, because they seemed to catch something else entirely typical of him, his sureness about his place in the world. He radiated security. In an article he wrote on celibacy, he supposed that had he not been a priest he would have been a secondary school teacher ‘with very good chances of promotion’. The teaching profession’s loss was gain for many groups of people, whole populations in fact: people in Rivers State, Nigeria, immediately after the Civil War, parishioners and trainee catechists in Makurdi Diocese, Benue State, Nigeria, his many friends, and of course, the deaf, always the deaf.

Bill’s intelligence and keenness to communicate led him to competence or better in many languages, but none more than in the sign language. It was among the deaf that he spent almost a third of his life and more than half of his priesthood, while he was living at St Vincent’s, Sunday’s Well, Cork. He certainly could not have been more loved had he been married and a teacher than he was by them. His dedication to the deaf had plenty of feeling in it, but also practical good sense and an organisational ability that his confreres thought must have been a special gift of the Holy Spirit, so uncharacteristic did it seem. There were two achievements of which he was especially proud. The first was bringing together the team that established Cork Deaf Enterprises, a highly regarded and successful furniture-restoring business in Cork, employing and largely run by deaf people. The other was setting up a programme at UCC for the professional training of interpreters for the deaf. I am not sure though that the Holy Spirit would want Bill’s ability as an organiser to be considered entirely supernatural. He was as practically minded as any confrere I know, though he did have difficulty working with people who were unable to see his point of view and meet him somewhere around half-way.

Many who knew him were impressed by his intelligence, his breadth of knowledge, and the aptness of his contributions to discussion. He had a cultivated mind, a tribute to the Christian Brothers School in Athy and to Castleknock, where he had his secondary education, but a tribute, most of all, to his parents, Gerard and Alice. He loved history and was good at it, he loved Irish and spoke it well, he loved music and sport and knew his stuff regarding them. He kept in touch with theology, and did an MA at the Angelicum in the 1980s, though his religious interests were more spiritual and catechetical than theological or (least of all) philosophical. His Master’s dissertation was entitled “The Ecumenical Implications of the Ministry of St Justin de Jacobis in Ethiopia, 1839-1860”. He loved writing and wrote very well. His last publication, a sensitive and inspiring article on David Livingstone for the Kiltegan Fathers’ magazine, Africa, was called ‘Ending the Heartbreak’ [of slavery]. (November 2002) He was devoted to the Priesthood, and this aspect of his character reached its clearest expression in his membership of the core group of the annual Intercession for Priests at All Hallows. His colleagues there liked him especially for his good humour and moderation. While far from being flamboyantly spiritual, he was deeply so. The last nine months of his life brought this to the fore. He spent long periods in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dun Laoghaire. In his letters and conversations with friends and chaplains he seemed, like St Stephen, so see the heavens opened and to sense the eternal joy to which he was being invited.

Go raibh dhá láimh Chríost anall thart, agus tharainn go léir.
Myles Rearden CM

Born: Kanturk, Co Cork, 6 January 1941
Entered the CM: 7 September1958
Final Vows: 8 September 1963
Ordained Priest: 4 June 1966 in Holy Cross College, Clonliffe, by Dr John Charles McQuaid,
Archbishop of Dublin.

1966-’70 St Vincent’s College, Castleknock
1970-’75 Port Harcourt, Nigeria
1975-‘80 Ogobia, Nigeria
1980-‘83 Damascus House, Mill Hill.
1983-‘84 Angelicum, Rome
1984- 2003 St Vincent’s, Sunday’s Well, Cork
Died: 19 October 2003
Buried: Cork