Diarmuid O’Farrell, class '48
1930 - 2005
When I began to write this obituary and tried to choose words that best summed up Diarmuid for me, I settled on “Strength and Gentleness”. I know that some people will be surprised by the first of these words but no one better exemplified the truth that gentleness does not mean weakness than Diarmuid.
I remember when I first came to work with deaf people, John Cleary arranged a meeting for the chaplaincy and he invited Diarmuid to chair it. I was surprised at his choice, having expected that John would have chaired the meeting himself but no other Vincentian knew Diarmuid as well as John and I soon saw the wisdom of the choice; Diarmuid was a superb chair, combining clarity and incisiveness with understanding of each person’s views.
I was to see this ability again when Ireland, led by Diarmuid, agreed to host the CDA (Catholic Deaf Association of Britain and Ireland) Conference in 1993. He had a year to prepare this conference and started immediately setting up a working group that would meet every week until the theme and plan of the Conference for 350 people was complete. Both the preparation and the Conference went “like clockwork”. I used to wonder where Diarmuid got the strength and authority he showed on these occasions. Eventually I realised this was a classic example of the meaning of authority which I had been taught resided radically in those over whom it was exercised. Diarmuid’s goodness and holiness gave him such respect and indeed love from others that they easily accepted his leadership and guidance. The conference symbol of the tree and its leaves that the committee accepted came from David Cooke but Diarmuid was the one who led its choice and use. The conference, like anything else I saw Diarmuid undertake was a great success; what he did seemed blessed.
I have already referred very briefly to Diarmuid’s holiness and goodness: His great friend, Canon Charles Hollywood of Salford always spoke of the qualities when we spoke of Diarmuid. It was Charlie who said that for him Diarmuid was the embodiment of St Vincent de Paul in our time. The truth of this view was evinced firstly in Diarmuid’s poverty; he always travelled with an unlocked bag (a grip) and nearly always attracted a fellow passenger whom he got to know very thoroughly. Again, I believe it was that holiness and goodness that shone from him and that enabled him to give joy and trust to others. Diarmuid imitated Vincent de Paul not only in his poverty but also in his prayer; people who knew Diarmuid spoke of his closeness to God and his attachment to prayer. So it is not difficult to understand Charlie Hollywood’s view that “For me he was the St Vincent of our time”. Though he made no show of it he was a saintly person.
Diarmuid’s other great friend was John Cleary; they shared many holidays together and I was often struck by the ease with which they shared Eucharist and the Prayer of the Church on those holidays. The driving force of the lives of all three of those friends was love, love of God and of the neighbour. All three had a genuine love of deaf people and a commitment that enabled them to give themselves for the good of the deaf community. So, in Diarmuid we are dealing with someone whose life was one of love of God that he showed in prayer and poverty and of love of the neighbour that he showed expecially in his commitment to deaf people. Diarmuid had already learned the lesson described by Pope Benedict XVI:
Only if I serve my neighbour can I be open to what God does to me, and to how much he loves me. Love of neighbour is no longer a ‘commandment’ imposed from without. It is a freely bestowed experience of love from within, a love which by its very nature must then be shared with others until in the end God is “all in all”.(Deus Caritas Est 18)
This is the love that Charlie Hollywood saw in Diarmuid and led him to see Diarmuid as being like Vincent de Paul. Finally, if love of God and of the neighbour was what most marked Diarmuid O’Farrell, it was not the only quality that made him so attractive; Diarmuid also had a lovely sense of humour that shone from him always. This is why he was so loved and respected by everyone. May he rest in peace.
Tom Woods CM
Born: Dublin, 10th April 1930
Entered the CM: 7th September 1948
Vows: 8th September 1950
Ordained Priest: 4th June 1955 at Holy Cross College, Clonliffe by Dr John Charles McQuaid, Archbishop of Dublin
1955-‘56: St Vincent’s, Castleknock
1956-‘62: St Vincent’s, Sunday’s Well, Cork
1962-‘82: Glasgow – attached to Lanark
1982-‘88: St Mary’s, Lanark
1988-‘94: Park View
1994-2005: St Peter’s, Phibsborough
Died: 30th November 2005
Buried; Vincentian plot, Deansgrange, Co. Dublin
A life of Dedication – served in two cultures
Every so often life produces outstanding people whose strength of character and abilities are masked by their life-long focus on inspiring other people. Positive things seem to happen around them, but their approach to success is one of humility.
Such a man was the late Fr Diarmuid O’ Farrell, CM, Chaplain to the Catholic deaf people of Glasgow and a national motivator in the promotion of new innovations in meeting their needs. People conversing with him for the first time would have no perception of the dynamo that drove him relentlessly to seek out more effective ways of improving the lives of those who were deaf. He was a quiet unassuming gentleman who did not attract attention to himself and who it would be easy to misread. His physical stature was not imposing, but his attitude and ideas were those of a giant. His fertile imagination and intellect overcame problems and simplified philosophies. He also did not accept the word “NO” into his vocabulary.
He was born on the 10th of April 1930 and grew up in Dublin. He was educated by the Christian Brothers in Dun Laoghaire and completed his education at Castleknock College, Dublin. On completion of his Secondary schooling, he joined the Vincentians in 1948 and was ordained as a Priest in 1955. His first priesthood duties were with St Vincent’s Church, Cork, where he served from 1956 to 1962. He had a great love of choral work and while in Cork he produced a number of parish musicals. He had been a keen swimmer in his youth and throughout his life, took a keen interest in Irish Rugby and visited Murayfield when Ireland was playing there. He also became aware of the deaf community and helped the chaplain, Fr Nolan, in his ministry.
It was natural then that in 1962 he should be appointed by his provincial superior to work full time with deaf people in Glasgow and the west of Scotland. Thus began his second life commitment and dedication in which he was to demonstrate so ably, his drive, determination and power to overcome obstacles to progress.
In working with deaf people in Glasgow he followed in the tradition of Fr Derry Sweeney and Sr Brendan Cussen. At a very early stage he demonstrated that his pastoral ministrations could only be effective with a national remit. Since he was the only full time Catholic Chaplain for deaf people in the whole of Scotland his tentacles, and his car, were to include many, many journeys south of the Border. His activities however, involved international links with religious and secular bodies – particularly in Education.
When the second Vatican Council decided that the Liturgy should be celebrated in the vernacular it heralded a period of frantic activity for Chaplains throughout the country. The significance for deaf parishioners was that suitable sign language had to be introduced. This led to the establishment of the Catholic Association for the Deaf. Fr O’Farrell was at the centre of this venture and led him and Fr Hollywood of Manchester to set up a World Conference hosted by the Catholic Association for the Deaf. Many benefits to deaf people resulted from this venture and made his regular journeys to and from Manchester - usually on the same day – extremely worthwhile.
In the midst of all this activity he decided that his deaf parishioners needed a new building in which to meet for both social and spiritual discourse. Working with Sr Eileen (Augustine) O’Mahony, Mr Joe Hughes, Friends of the Deaf, Strathclyde Regional Council, and countless others, money was raised and a new Centre for Deaf People opened up in Tobago Street, Glasgow. This was to have far reaching effects on the local deaf community and the ability of Fr O’ Farrell to provide services which specifically met their needs.
Within this Centre, a new, national organisation with deaf people was born. With the enthusiastic involvement of Sr Eileen O’Mahony, Fr O’Farrell supervised the development of specialist provision for deaf people who had additional problems. The numbers attending Tobago Street with special needs grew, so that it became essential that a larger setting was found for this group. A building became available in Moffat Street and, after adaptations, became a new place for the assessment and rehabilitation of this specific group of deaf people. This Centre has grown over the years and is now known as Hayfield Support Services with Deaf People. Fr O’Farrell was very involved with the setting up of Hayfield, but once established, Hayfield became an independent entity which is recognized both locally and nationally as being a significant resource for certain deaf adults. Hayfield will remain as a very real monument to Fr O’Farrell’s ministry in Glasgow.
Fr O’Farrell was respected and loved by his deaf parishioners because of his human qualities as well as their knowledge that he was totally dedicated to doing his best to improve their lives. Many people look back at the end of their lives and feel they should have achieved more. Knowing the nature of Fr O’Farrell, he would certainly include himself in that sentiment. However, his humility and determination combined disarmingly to ensure that he inspired people to do better and achieve more. When people remember him, as they most certainly will, their recollections will be of warmth, humility, dynamism and effectiveness.
“He allowed people to be free”. His human skills may have been unusual, but it was the way he honed, developed and applied them that made him such a unique human being. May his dear soul be at the right hand of God.