Desmond MacMorrow, class '36
When invited by the Editor to write an obituary notice for my deceased brother, Desmond, I demurred initially. However, on reflection, the suggestion made good sense.
Desmond Martin MacMorrow was born on June 8th 1917. He was the eldest of five children, three boys and two girls. His birthplace was Kilbricken, Mountrath, Co Laois, where father was principal teacher in the local national school; mother being assistant teacher at the Oak National School, midway between Mountrath and Portlaoise. Des was born one year after the Easter Rising. Our district did not escape the consequences of years of violence that followed.
We were a family of moderate means – like all our neighbours. We had no car, no electricity, no running water, none of the prerequisites taken for granted in a modern home. Yet for all that we were well cared for, lacking in none of the basic needs of life. A strong bond both within the family and with our neighbours ensured that life ran smoothly – as indeed it did, the influence of our shared Catholic faith being the strongest bond of all.
Like all the members of the family, Des received his primary education in Kilbricken National School. All the boys were into hurling in a big way. Even in those early days Des showed his organising ability. It was he who arranged the matches, told each one where to play and anyone who did not do his bit was left in no doubt. He was a bad loser: had a flinty temper and many times I was on the receiving end!
When the time came to choose a secondary school, the choice seemed to lie between Ballyfin (Patrician), Ballinakill (Salesian) or more likely Roscrea (Cistercian). But that is not what happened. The question might reasonably be asked: “how did it happen that a family living in rural Co Laois come in contact with the Vincentian Community?” Here we have another example of the inscrutable ways of God’s Providence. Our father was an enthusiastic supporter of the Gaelic League and the language revival movement. It was his custom to go the Aran Islands each summer, usually bringing Des with him. In time they were both bi-lingual in Irish and English. While there he became friendly with two Vincentian priests, Fr Alex McCarthy and Fr Austin Murphy. They impressed him so deeply that he decided, there and then, to entrust the education of his three sons to them and he told them so. When he came home, he told mother what he had arranged. When she, a little piqued perhaps, asked him who these gentlemen were, he is reputed to have answered “Well, they are a religious order: they have a college in Dublin: they told me their names but I can’t remember them”. So in the most unlikely circumstances Des went off to Castleknock. Not surprisingly the idea of by-passing the local schools and going to “faraway” Dublin gave rise to a suspicion of “snobbishness”. He seems to have had a successful passage there. Among those in his class was the brilliant Martin Dyar, older brother of our deceased confrere Fr JP. His siblings considered Des the most talented member of the family, academically, athletically and musically.
When he completed his Leaving Certificate, he announced his intention to be a priest and a Vincentian. It is said our parents were very surprised because they did not think he was “holy” enough! Holiness posed no problem to our parish priest. He arrived on our doorstep to ask Des to go to Carlow College and go forward for the diocese of Kildare and Leighlin.
He was ordained in 1943 along with Frs John Roughan, Derry Sweeney, James Murphy, Con Curtin, Frank Cleere, Maurice O’Neill, and Hugh Murnaghan. Following some years of teaching in Castleknock and St Paul’s, he joined the Mission Team, giving parish missions in Ireland, England and Scotland. His next assignment was one of twelve years as chaplain to the University of East Anglia in Norwich. Next he was appointed parish priest of Hereford. When he reached the age of retirement, by arrangement with the local bishop, he was appointed as parish assistant in the parish of St Theodore’s, Hampton, Middlesex. There he formed a close friendship with the parish priest, Fr Bernard Boylan, that lasted right up to his death, with an annual return visit of about six weeks. When Des finally returned to Ireland in 2001, he was warmly welcomed by the Castleknock Community. He was very appreciative of this welcome, often referring to the kindness of the President of the time, Fr Sam Clyne and the late Fr John Doyle.
Des had two hobbies in life – golf and racing. Both of these were rooted in his childhood environment. Our father was deeply involved in founding Mountrath Golf Club in 1929. Initially, the whole family became involved. Des showed natural flair for the game which rapidly developed. So very soon it was goodbye to hurling and welcome golf. Likewise there was a great interest in racing, nurtured by the fact that a well-known trainer lived not far away. Betting however was minimal; people could not afford it.
No one is exempt form the ups and downs of life. In this respect Des was no exception. Our father was a man of strong convictions. He lived by his own principles. He wouldn’t agree with anyone just to please them. It was a trait of character that Des inherited. While, generally speaking, it can be admirable, in community it can cause problems. And it did for Des, albeit in matters trivial. In the course of his long life, it was inevitable that some relationships would be difficult. The same aspect of personality showed itself in his preferred theology which was strictly orthodox and traditional. All who knew him in pastoral ministry would describe his as a “Pope’s man”. That was why in my funeral homily I fulfilled his wish to ask forgiveness for any pain or hurt he had caused to anyone whether within the community or without.
About six weeks before he died, Des often spoke to me about death. He had a premonition that his end was approaching. After a period in hospital for tests and convalescence, he was, thanks to the kindness of Fr Peter Slevin and Fr John Gallagher, able to return to his room in Castleknock. However, it was only to be a short stay. The following day he suffered a severe stroke and death followed about five days later. Among the things he said to me in his final illness was that he could not visualise himself in any other walk of life except as a priest and Vincentian. Many of us would accept that as an epitaph.
Frank MacMorrow, CM
Desmond MacMorrow CM
Born; Stradbally, Co Laois, 8 June 1917
Entered the CM; 7 September 1936
Vows; 8 September 1938
Ordained Priest: 30 May 1943 in Holy Cross College, Clonliffe, by Dr John Charles McQuaid, Archbishop of Dublin
1943-’55; St Vincent’s, Castleknock
1955-’60; St Mary’s, Lanark
1960-’63; St Paul’s, Raheny
1963-’67; St Vincent’s, Sheffield
1967-’79; St Mary’s, Dunstable (serving as Chaplain, University of East Anglia, Norwich)
1979-’83; St Stephen’s, Warrington
1983-’89; St Mary’s, Hereford
1989-‘98; St Mary’s, Strawberry Hill (serving in Hampton-on-Thames)
1998-2001; St Vincent’s, Mill Hill (serving in Hampton-on-Thames)
2001-’09; St Vincent’s, Castleknock
Died; 25 August 2009
Buried; Castleknock College
Tribute to Des MacMorrow, CM by Fr Bernard Boylan and the parishioners St Theodore’s, Hampton
Last Monday afternoon, the mortal remains of Fr Des MacMorrow were borne with great solemnity on the shoulders of the senior boys at the school to his last resting-place in the grounds of Castleknock College, where he had attended as a boy, had taught as a young priest and had spent the last eight years of his life in retirement. That was after the Mass which had been attended by the remaining members of his own family, many priests of the Vincentian Congregation in Ireland and the UK, scores of his friends, boys from the school and the personal representative of the President of Ireland, Mary MacAleese, in whose State House in Phoenix Park, Fr Des had recently offered Mass. The funeral Mass had been concelebrated at the altar by Fr Des’ brother priest, Fr Frank (Principal Celebrant), the President of the College, Fr Peter Slevin, and Fr Bernard Boylan of St Theodore’s, Hampton. At the foot of the coffin, the Headmaster of the school had placed a highquality framed enlargement of a photograph of Fr Des in the sanctuary of the Jesus Chapel at Canterbury Cathedral; addressing parishioners from St Theodore’s who had travelled there with him on pilgrimage in 1991.
When Fr Des arrived from Hereford to live with the priests at St Mary’s College in 1989, he was asked by Bishop MacMahon to come on permanent supply to Hampton where Fr Joe Scally had suffered set-backs in health and was in need of assistance. Then began a 20-year association with this parish which he last visited this Easter. At the age of 91, he drove here – in his beloved Renault Megane – stopping off on the way to stay with Fr Tom Regan in Abergavenny and with the monks at Belmont Abbey on his way home. As he was leaving Hampton after a 6-week stay he was talking about what he would like to do when he returned in 2010!
He will be remembered by us for all sorts of things. His opinions were always strongly held and he had no hesitation in asserting them. Nevertheless, he was forever the Pope’s man and you knew exactly where you stood with him. He loved to discuss the topics of the day – especially if they touched on rugby, the horses or Irish hurling. His special resort while in Hampton was the Royal Mid-Surrey Golf Club in Richmond where he had many friends. Fr Des, in his heyday, boasted a 3-handicap in golf and would have given any golfing professional a good game.
Despite his abiding and life-long interest in sport, his heart was centred on the life of the Church and, specifically, in the last 20 years, the life of this parish. Even at the age of 91, he wanted to hear about what was going on at St Theodore’s and the people of the parish as keenly as any new curate. He didn’t hang back in giving his views about the way the Liturgy especially should be conducted. He will be remembered here, as he is in Castleknock, for his musical talent and he left a collection of his musical scores and books for our reference.
Fr Des suffered a serious stroke towards the end of July which landed him in hospital for almost a month. Having made extraordinary progress, he was allowed to return home and was full of optimism again for everything he was planning. But it wasn’t to be. Having suffered a severe recurrence of his illness and heart attack he went from this world in the evening of Tuesday 25th August.
Miserere mei, Deus secundum magnam misericordiam tuam.