Fr. James O’Beirne – A Tribute

I first knew Fr. O’Beirne when I was a teenager in the parish in the late 70’s and he was based in Mount Temple.

It wasn’t until I joined the staff of Kilcleagh N.S. in 1990 that I had any real contact with him and in the intervening years we became firm friends. He was the only person who ever called me “Mariah.”

He was entertaining, funny, kind, learned, measured, honest, wise, paternal, loyal and supportive.

He could also be infuriating, stubborn, argumentative, and wayward but I can honestly say that in all our dealings we never had a cross word.

He was chairman of the Board of Management for 20 years until his retirement in 2005 and I know that he enjoyed it. He himself was a classic scholar, though he wore his knowledge lightly and he had huge regard for education and learning.

He enjoyed the company of the teachers and that of the pupils even more. He had a natural rapport with children and they responded to him. He knew each of their names and family backgrounds and never forgot them when they moved on.

He was always tolerant of any little mistakes they made when serving Mass and was generous with praise and approval when they did well. He was patient and encouraging with excited, apprehensive little people presenting for First Confession/Communion.

He appointed all of the present permanent staff and I like to think he got it right! He was in no way politically correct and there were times during interviews when I could see the expressions of horrified amazement at some of the questions he asked. I remember one particularly stiff humourless interviewee who after a few searching questions was pronounced “solvent but manless.” I don’t think she would have accepted the post after that!

Ms. Martin remembers waiting nervously in his sitting room and being told with great formality that the panel wasn’t quite ready to see her and then glancing out the window to see him having a sneaky cigarette break!

During his term as manager we had some sad times particularly when my predecessor Michael English passed away and when we had deaths in our school community. He was a tower of strength. I saw first hand his sensitivity and empathy with people in difficult circumstances and heard him speak with the utter conviction his faith gave him.

He had a real grá for the Irish language and was a competent Spanish speaker. He enjoyed music and singing and his favourite hymn was “Jerusalem.” He belted out the Hosanna part with great gusto.

He also had a love of animals especially dogs, he had a soft spot for red setters and kept one “Sam” for years. But the dog I remember best is the scrawny, scraggy old sheepdog with the broken jaw that he found in Moate one Monday evening after the mart. He spent considerable time, energy and money nursing him back to health and loved him all the more for his lob-sided expression.

Fr. O’Beirne was a “socialite” in the best sense of the word, he was a naturally comfortable in any company and people were drawn to his warmth. To quote Kipling he could “walk with kings and not lose the common touch.”

It is the end of an era and I am sad that he is gone, but he had no doubt about, nor fear of, the next world and I’m sure he will liven it up a bit.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dhílis agus ní bheidh a leithéid ann arís.

Le grá


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