Archive for Funeral Homily

Con Harvey – The Harbour ‘Master’.

Funeral Homily

Con Harvey

Church of The Most Holy Redeemer, Bray

Saturday the 29th of April 2017

A colourful card I once saw carried the following quote; ‘A ship is safe in a harbour, but that is not what ships are made for’. Harbours are a continuum in Con Harvey’s life. He grew up in Dun Laoghaire with his mother and father and his sisters, Bríd, Catherine and Mary. He met Máire who lived in Blackrock, a town by the sea without a harbour, and before she graduated they were married and eventually they moved to another harbour town; the one in which we now gather namely, Bray. He spend his life passing the places of his childhood and indeed the town of Máire’s childhood as he journeyed to Ringsend on the DART  – a town that hosts another harbour.

A harbour is a place of safety, a place of rest and a place where one shares the spoils of the ocean. Con Harvey was all those things. He provided safety for his family and those who were in his care in Ringsend College or ’The Tec’ depending on your vintage.  His presence inevitably brought rest and calm. He had an unbelievable ability to bring even a restful calm where there was once heavy turbulence and strikingly strong storm clouds. And Con had no problem sharing his spoils with the world; in actual fact he cared little for himself in terms of possessions.

We are here today because we are reminded in a deeply painful way that we are like the ships in that we are not made solely for the harbour; we are made for what is beyond seemingly safe arms of the harbour and the horizon of human experience. This may sound exciting, energising and hopeful but when one is called from the harbour when one has so much left to live for and so much to share, the excitement, energy and hope dissolves and we feel the rawness of a pain, grief, anger and loss. And as we sit here in the Church of the Holy Redeemer Con’s family and friends wonder can they ever be redeemed from that raw pain.

This may be our reality but the reason we are here today is that Con asked to be brought to this Church for burial. He said to me that at times ‘I didn’t know what I believe but I love the ritual’. Ritual is what we hold onto when we run out of words and when we lose our understanding of things. Ritual digs deep into the tradition and the belief of others to carry us when we weaken or when we are lost.

To quote from some reflections on Australian Aboriginal practice:

Ritual relates to order in nature. We find it everywhere. In every natural process there is a sequence…There is ceremony in all the functions of creation. Even in chaos where all order seems to have collapsed there are undetected processes and hidden rituals by which the centre holds.[1]

Our ritual today asks us to place Con’s goodness before God; to ask mercy for his failings, to celebrate his life, to give thanks for the gift of his presence among us, and to help us let go of him and bid him farewell as he leaves our harbour for the richness and mystery of what lies beyond.

There are three ways in which these elements are seen in the life of the one we commend to God. In Con’s family, his work, and in the man himself we see goodness and life abounding. Even in his sickness – his mind and emotions were alert. He remembered the name of a horse I gave him way back in the early nineties which came in second in Cheltenham at 33/1. When I’d recall a student; he’d remember everything about that person; he’d even remember their parents and at times even their grandparents.

The first – his family. Con and Maura created in their home life a place of hospitality. Maybe you think that this is something easy – the provision of food, drink and a comfortable chair. I mean by hospitality something quite different but those of you who know Con and Máire well and those of us who worked with him will understand what I mean when I share this quote with you. I came across it when I was writing something last year and it describes hospitality as;

primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines. It is not to lead our neighbour into a corner where there are no alternatives left, but to open a wide spectrum of options for choice and commitment …To convert hostility into hospitality requires the creation of the friendly empty space where we can reach out to our fellow human beings and invite them to a new relationship[2].

His life created a hospitable space where ideas, difference, doubt, belief, love, struggle, pain, and attainment were comfortable and compatible. This the hallmark of his family life and of his home, characteristics which he brought with him wherever he went. We place an emphasis on faith in our Church today but writing in the year 100 C.E., Clement of Rome in his Epistle to the Corinthians noted that ‘it is by faith and hospitality that Abraham became the son of the Covenant’[3]. Interesting that in the early writings of the Church it is faith and hospitality, in equal measure, that cultivate the presence of God in our world. Faith can be the reflective mind at work in the world but hospitality is the work of God in our world.

Con’s teaching was just an extension of this. He brought all these gifts and dispositions to the classroom and the school. On one occasion when we talked recently we spoke about how hard it was starting off in the school. He shared a belief that I share, ‘once they realised you weren’t going away they stopped annoying you’. I added, ‘yes Con, but you had to also realise that you weren’t better than them either’. He said, ‘too true’. Furthermore you had to love what you were doing as an educator. These three sentences show an underlying ethic of education that has resonances in our second reading today. Faithfulness to the task particularly in the face of adversity, humility and regard for those in your care and a love for what you do. ‘You should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience..and above all these things, put on love’. Apart from all that – he was fun to be with while in the staff-room; and his company was never boring! Especially when he talked about all the horses that nearly won!

Finally Con the man. Before he is husband, father, grandfather, teach or vice-principal. He was Con Harvey. A man who brought you into a space of honesty in a gentle and self-effacing way. I can see the man Con in the words of the author Colum McCann in his book Let the Great World Spin. It’s a beautiful work in which he says at one point ‘it takes great courage to live an ordinary life’. And so it does. To withstand the temptation to be someone extraordinary in the eyes of the world demands courage. His description of a character called Corrigan gives expression to how I see Con the man and gives further expression to the qualities that he’d never admit to in himself.

Corrigan told me once that Christ was quite easy to understand. He went where He was supposed to go. He stayed where he was needed. He took little or nothing along, a bit of a shirt, a few odds and ends to stave off the loneliness. He never rejected the world. If he had rejected it, he would have been rejecting mystery. And if He rejected mystery, He would have been rejecting faith.

What Corrigan wanted was a fully believable God, one you could find in the grime of everyday. The comfort He got from the hard, cold, truth – the filth, the war, the poverty – was that life could be capable of small beauties. He wasn’t interested in the glorious tales of the afterlife or the notions of a honey soaked heaven. To Him that was a dressing room for hell. Rather he consoled himself with the fact that, in the real world, when he looked closely into the darkness he might find the presence of a light, damaged and bruised, but a little light all the same. He wanted, quite simply, for the world to be a better place, and he was in the habit of hoping for it. Out of that came some sort of triumph that went beyond theological proof, a cause for optimism beyond all the evidence. ‘Someday the meek may actually want it’, he said.


As we watch you leave our harbour Con, we turn to the ritual that reminds us of the infinite possibilities that this journey opens up to us, and we wish you God’s speed.

[1] Cameron, R.(1992) Alcheringa: The Australian Experience of the Sacred, St. Paul’s, NSW, Australia, pg. 63.

[2] Quoted in Gerschutz, Jill Marie and Lois Ann Lorentzen, Integration Yesterday and Today: New Challenges for the United States and the Church IN Kerwin and Jill Marie Gerschutz (Ed) And You Welcomed Me; Migration and Catholic Social Teaching, ML: Lexington Books, pg. 127-128.

[3] De Béthune, Pierre-François, (2002) By Faith and Hospitality; The Monastic Tradition as a Model for Interreligious Encounter, Herefordshire, Gracewing pg. vii


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Frank Cullen -The Master Craftsman R.I.P.

Francis X. Cullen

Funeral Mass

Church of St. Brendan, Coolock

Tuesday the 25th of April 2017,

Feast of St. Mark the Evangelist


As I read and listen to what is going on in the world today I am of the very strong opinion that more and more people will have the following three words emblazoned on their headstones … ‘I should have’. The near addictive compulsion to adrenaline like experiences that is a force for fulfilment today seems, at times, to be replacing a way of life when we savour the simple things that surround us. The good life that we have control over is substituted with a scenario where we many are chasing ‘life’ that is constructed by others who do not have their interests to heart.

We bid farewell today to a man who has no need of the words ‘I should have’ on his headstone.   In his last weeks on this earth Frank acknowledged his sheer and utter contentment with all that life has brought him. Like most of us there are many misfortunes that came his way; there were dark moments, times when the odds were stacked against him but these all dissolved in the face of all the good he knew. His life with Anne for fifty three years of marriage were exceptional years as they revealed their ability to work together with calm and with fortitude.   His children, John, Sondra and David were the apple of his eye. (At one stage on Tonlegee Road we thought Frank and Anne were opening a Divisional Station!) Frank delighted in what they achieved with their respective wives and husband (Emer, Sean, and Niamh) and he lived for his grandchildren, Eoin, Aileen, Oisin and Cliodhna. As regards his work he was exceptional.  He was the quintessential Master Craftsman. His shared his trade with openness, generosity, pride and deftness. He won the admiration of many and the scorn of very few. He loved his early life in Seville Place and indeed brought a lot of the values of neighbourliness and charity with him when he emigrated to the country to a small, rural, village called Coolock in 1965.

Frank was a wise and a deep man and as any craftsman knows when you work steadily over a particular piece of work it is not only time of patient persistence – it is also a time of contemplation. It is a time when you live between what is – and what is possible. If you loose sight of either – the project falls apart. Franks craft was a wonderful image of Frank the man and indeed, a wonderful image of life. To live between what is and what is possible. To be honest Frank’s realm of what is possible was deeply informed by his faith; his belief in the God who watched over him all his life.

It is only right to say at this stage that we know Frank had his fair share of suffering. His heart attack in 1991 nearly stole him from this world but he managed to outwit its effects. As a child he had polio and anyone of his vintage will know how polio was treated. It meant long, lonely, hours in hospitals when you became an observer of life rather than a person who was immersed in its activity. You were on the stands while others were on the pitch. I know a number of people who have polio and they nearly all have that self same ability to stand back from life, evaluate it, and make a comment that makes everything right.  Anyone who was a beneficiary of Frank’s wisdom knew he lived in the bigger picture and could, in one short sentence, make sense of the most complicated thing. People I know who contracted polio have an innate awareness of the value of kindness because they discovered the importance of kindness when they were all but imprisoned in a hospital ward – and they never forgot that kindness.

To go back to that instance where we talked through a project that we shared. I received a gift of a chalice from a carpenter who lived on the island of Lampedusa. It was simple wooden chalice made from a migrant boat. To use it at Mass it required an inset to prevent leakages and to make it worthy of the purpose for which a chalice is intended to be used. Frank was the man who came to my aid and he undertook the task a love and care which was inspirational. With his colleagues in The Calderwood School of Silversmiths they brought this chalice to life.

Apart from the joy of watching it take shape; the conversations about what a chalice represented were deeply profound. I’d explain something; he’d listen, repeat some of the words and respond with his own little wise addition. Frank Cullen; Silversmith and Doctor of Theology. One such instance went as follows.

There is one theologian who sees the Eucharistic in the context of sacrifice. The Old Testament is littered with occasions of sacrifices that aimed to appease the God the people believed in. Even among those who believed in Yahweh God, they often sacrificed someone even by stoning in the belief that this person was bringing bad luck, even pestilence on the community. By scapegoating them, by punishing them, they felt they restored peace in the community. They did for a while until the next problem occurred and the same cycle started again. There is even an account of the prophet Jonah being thrown out of the boat to calm the storm that was causing the boat to sink.

This theologian states that the reason Jesus came among us was that his sacrifice on the cross was a statement by God that there was no need to scapegoat or sacrifice anyone of His creatures ever again. There is no need for anyone to be a victim ever again. When the chalice is raised up we are reminded of that. But today we are reminded of something more wonderful. Frank didn’t make a victim of anyone; he never claimed the role of a victim and if did anything it was to reach out and alleviate the plight to those who were genuine victims of situations not of their own making. Any of us in the neighbourhood know that only too well. So it is right and fitting that these two chalices were made by his hands. Mine may not be worthy to lift them but his were certainly worthy to make them.

The conversation continued to reflect on the suffering of the world and the needless amount of victims there are daily in the name of all sorts of ends. During one of these conversations I shared with him the words of a nun I met in Rwanda who saw horrendous murders, violations and mutilations. Many acted (Hutus) in the belief that if they ridded the country of one group of people (Tutsis) that order and well-being would be restored on the land. The sister who had lived through it all when asked did you ever ask where God was in all this she simply said; ‘I would not put this on the shoulders of God’. Frank said these works over and over again ‘I would not put this on the shoulders of God’. He continued, ‘When my time comes and you lift my chalice we’ll remember those words’. I think this particular conversation helped him accept where things were at and helped him begin to look at not what he was leaving behind but what he had been blessed with.

In this life we can seek salvation in so many things but there is only one that is important. We can be distracted, addicted and busy but the truth of our Christian faith is that the answer to everything lies in the Eucharist we celebrate here today. Frank’s message to us all is what really matters in life is what we come to know as the ‘touch of the true Master’s hand’.

Fr. Alan Hilliard (

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Dinny O’Brien R.I.P.


Reception of his Mortal Remains to St. John Vianney Church


Tuesday the 6th of December 2016


The Gospel: Mark 10: 17-30


He was setting out on a journey when a man ran up, knelt before him and put this question to him, ‘Good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: You must not kill; You must not commit adultery; You must not steal; You must not bring false witness; You must not defraud; Honour your father and mother.’ And he said to him, ‘Master, I have kept all these from my earliest days’. Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him, and he said, ‘There is one thing you lack. Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ But his face fell at these words and he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth.


We welcome the mortal remains of Dinny O’Brien to his local Church. He worshipped here very frequently and was known to many of you who attend the morning Mass here at this Church of St. John Vianney.

We meet here to support his wife Margaret, his children Mick, Tom, Andrew and John and their wives Fidelma, Bernadette, Laurie (USA) and Ciara. We cannot but fail to remember his son Denis who predeceased him in 1990.

We also remember a wonderful collection of grandchildren, Keith, lisa, Shane, Aoife, Cormac, Ciara, Aisling, Hannah, Andrew, Ruan and Conal and his two great grandchildren Phoebe and Isable. This is a time of great remembering and confused grief for you all.

We welcome also his siblings Kathleen, Angela, Tommy and remember those who have gone before him; May, Bernard and Peter.

And we welcome everyone from the wider world that Dinny inhabited, those of you from Wexford, Kilkenny and North County Dublin and all of you from his world of Dublin Football, Hurling and Music. I think it’d be fair to say there’ll be very few referees here this evening.

We bring Dinny’s remains here this evening to present him to the mercy of God and the tender mercy of this community who knew and loved him. He wasn’t what you call a shy man; he didn’t hide in the corner of a room. You knew he was about.

Many of us here have great memories of his antics be it in the world of football, music, the neighbourhood, his time with Premier Diaries and more importantly his home. There are many stories to be embellished. However as important and all as our picture of Dinny is the manner of his death raises the question of how he saw himself at this particular point in time.

Dinny bought his house with Margaret on Chanel Road in Coolock. Most of us in Coolock couldn’t understand why a road and a school were called after a ladies perfume (In those days there were no Men’s Toiletries just Old Spice for Dinner Dances and Carbolic Soap for the rest of the year! I later came to know the story because I attended Chanel College.  St. Peter of Chanel was a Saint who was associated with the Marist Fathers, they ran the local secondary school. His feast was the 28th of April, a day I remember because it always meant a half day or at the minimum, no home work.

Peter lived on an island in the South Pacific as a missionary, thousands of miles away from his native France. His life was an abject failure. He made only one convert and the natives of the islands put him to death even though he was known to them for many a long year. After his death, many on the island were baptised because they began only then to see and acknowledge the source of his goodness and virtue.

Why I mention Peter of Chanel is that I am sure there were moments in his life when he saw himself as an abject failure and that life was facing him with every increasing challenges and difficulties. Whenever I myself face challenges where I feel isolated and unsure I think of him and his spirit. He inspires me and at times keeps me going, even getting me over the line.

Let’s be real, there are moments when we all face darkness and difficulty and these moments can frighten us all. For Dinny a dark moment came for a few brief earthly seconds that was impenetrable to light.  Others can judge us harshly but there is no doubt that, given the wrong circumstances we can be out own harshest judge and critic.

For Peter of Chanel, the community on the island and the larger community of the Church gathered to acknowledge his goodness, not just the goodness that he did but the goodness that he was to the extent that they proclaimed him a saint. We gather today as family and friends to say Dinny you are more to this world that you believed you were in the last moments of your life. We want to shine light into that darkness to complete the picture of your human journey. We believe that we are only completely real in God’s presence when he shines his light of love, compassion and mercy on us but in the meantime we have both the right and the duty to complete the picture and give honour to the fullness of your life as we know it.

I remember once reading about the spiritual life and one wise person said ‘that no person is good enough to direct themselves’. How true are these words? We cannot judge what is right or wrong, good or bad in solitariness. Our lives have a context which is called ‘one another’. Yes our modern world makes us feel we are more and more on our own and so we have to work all the harder to create the context in which we survive, live and flourish. The author of those words was making the point that I made earlier that we can be our own harshest critics and we need the gentle compassionate eyes and hearts of others to help us undo the knots that are inevitable on our human journey.

This evening then we meet and as a community of faith we bring our eyes and hearts of compassion and mercy to Dinny as we present him to God. We see the great love and goodness that is there and we complete the picture that for a few brief moments he couldn’t see. The Gospel that we listened to saw Jesus acknowledging the confusion of the young man yet through all this confusion he looked on him lovingly. Pope Francis proclaimed last year as a year of Mercy. One of the things he said was

“Wherever the church is present, the mercy of the Father must be evident. In our parishes, communities, associations, and movements, in a word, wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy” (Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, 12)

For us here this evening there is a great challenge ahead of us all. The challenge is ‘to be compassionate.’ Many of you have heard of the practise of mindfulness which is one of our buzz phrases and activities around today. The purpose of the practise of mindfulness is not just to take time out or to reduce stress; the prime purpose of mindfulness is to cultivate a methodology whereby we can look compassionately on ourselves; in doing that we can look compassionately on the world.  In this oasis of Mercy in  Ardlea Church we gather with one purpose which is to say Dinny may your darkness be dispelled by light; may your difficulties be melted with mercy and may your judgements be dissolved by love. Amen

Fr. Alan Hilliard


Dinny O’Brien

Funeral Mass

Wednesday the 7th of December 2016


Eighteen months ago I had to deal with the fallout from the tragedy in Berkeley with the students in the college where I work. It was a very difficult time. The tragedy was of horrific proportions when young people in the prime of life and with a golden future were taken from us. Many others were injured. Others are scared emotionally and physically. The only other tragedy that impacted on me deeply was one which is familiar to many of you here and that is the Stardust tragedy; but I was young then and without responsibility.

A few weeks after the tragedy I was in San Francisco helping the Pastoral Centre look at how their response affected them. I asked what do you remember most about the time you arrived at the scene and one person responded. ‘This may seem strange but in the midst of all the flashing lights and the drama, the one thing I remember is phone chargers’. He went on to explain that peoples phones were dead and they needed chargers just to ring home and say ‘I’m all right’ or to ease the fear of those who were phoning from Ireland only to receive a message that the phone was out of service which caused increasing anxiety and stress. They went to all the stores around the area and bought loads of phone chargers to allow people to ‘reconnect’ with people that mattered.

A strange story maybe, but not unlike the story of the characters in our Gospel today. Before the age of telecommunications or internet those affected by the tragedy of Jesus’ death simply met in a room described as ‘the upper’ room. A room away from it all that allowed people to connect with those that mattered. I suppose many would like to connect with Dinny for a few moments to find the right question to help us fumble around an award question that really just asks ‘why?’ but we can’t do that. But we are all connecting, men who might not normally shake hands are now unashamedly hugging. These hugs are a little longer especially with those who are part of our lives and who we no longer take for granted because in the light of what has happened we simply can’t. ‘Are you ok?’ is asked differently.

We all rue the crazy busy lives that are a barrier to our connecting and question it while knowing we can do little about it. And we realise that in the midst of all our technology there is nothing as good as looking into the eyes of some-one or feeling their touch. As an emigrant parent said to me, ‘Simply put…you can’t hug SKYPE’. These days for the family and close friends are days when everything is up in the air, nothing is normal, the predictability of life and its routines have melted away to make room for deep and meaningful connection to things and people that matter probably because something and not just somebody but something deep has been taken from us.

Today we gather for our Eucharist, a Mass, a ritual. Clumsy and awkward for some but necessary and healing for others. When we came to the Church we asked for mercy for ourselves. Mercy as I said last night is necessary because we can judge ourselves oh so harshly. One thing I have learnt from dealing with trauma is stay with the ‘what has happened’. If you go on a journey down the road of ‘what if’ you are on road to despair. It is a bottomless pit without real answers because the starting point is not real. Let’s ask for the grace and mercy to acknowledge that Dinny is gone from us and we miss him and live with the hope that we’ll meet him again one day.

Then we read the scriptures. A story of Abram who became Abraham. He left a lot behind and set out on a journey not knowing where this journey would lead. To be honest most of our important journeys are like this. We step out into unknowns; when people marry, have children they really are shaken to their roots because in reality they don’t know what is ahead. We also hear in these scriptures that our goodness goes before us. This means that in the presence of God what is first heard is not what other people think of us or what we think of ourselves but our goodness is the first thing that God’s sees. How comforting.

Then we break open the word just as we break open Dinny’s life in stories. People vie for the best story not because it is the funniest or most outrageous but because they want to claim the one that shows who this man who has died really is. They want to capture what lies beyond biology and science and reveal all that lies deeply etched on each soul, and indeed every soul, but which at the same time was unique to Dinny. Then we make prayers…we take time to think of one another because at a time like this we dispel as best we can the selfishness and narcissism that is more and more common today.

We make an offering of bread and wine and on this day we offer more. We offer the good deeds of Dinny’s life, that fact that he was generous to everyone particularly with his time deserved acknowledgement. That he brought people who may have felt left out into a room through his mirth and chat and he made people feel at home in themselves. And then we offer sacrifice and at this point where do we end when it comes to Dinny’s life. He gave up so much of himself for others. He at times, worked three jobs. In an Ireland that wasn’t very diverse, sleep was the only foreigner in his life. He worked for unselfishly for Margaret and the family. He drove buses to festivals and children to Feis, Fleadh and music lessons and if a judge wasted his journey he’d let them know. He packed Gaelic teams into his car without thought of cost or expense to himself and put simply – he loved. We can talk about it till the cows come home but real love comes at a cost to self and is contextualised by a greater good. Real love is not a benefit to oneself at the expense of another.

Then we give thanks at the Preface…and boy do we want to give thanks for all the offerings and sacrifices that this man made for many here today. As the older liturgy said ‘it is right to give thanks and praise’. Why do we name what we have to offer, the sacrifices and that for which we have to give thanks?  Patrick Kavanagh put it best when so wisely he stated in his poem The Hospital:

Naming these things is the love-act and its pledge.

We remember the words of Jesus at the last supper in the deep belief that remembering makes him present and here we wander into a territory that lies outside what many can understand but which is practised and professed by many peoples. It is not just Catholics who belief that the practise of ritual brings us into deep connection with those gone before us. Uncle Bill Nedijie whose tribe live in the Kakadu area of the Northern Territories tells his people that:

Man will come back

Like I come back each time.

This story is for all people

Everybody should be listening

Same story for everyone, just different language

My meaning might be a little hard,

So I speak English

You just listen careful and slow.


We got to hang on,

Not to lose our story.

Don’t think much about money

You can get a million dollar..

But not worth it

Million dollar..

He just go ‘poof’

Couple of weeks ..

You got nothing


Our Eucharist, our mass is our story. It is a story that connects us deeply to a place beyond us and with those we love and have left us in body. It is our fervent hope and prayer that Dinny is now part of greater story. That deep innate respect that we have for those gone before us, even before Christianity came to these shores, is an important part of who we are and becomes all the more important at time like this. As Bill says… ‘same story for everyone…just a different language’. It is our hope that we become immersed in that story where pain and suffering is no more and somehow – in the wonder of it all – we can connect with those who were the love of God to us in our earthly lives.

Then we break the bread. Important for us today. Let us not be afraid to present Dinny’s brokenness God. Those bits that were out of shape and caused him pain. We know from the Gospels that Jesus dealt with brokenness well. He often transformed it. That in some strange way we can offer Dinny’s last minutes to God. That when his mind was tormented and confused that we can offer this to God as well and not try to hide it.

And then we are invited to share in the Communion. It is a challenge today to step into mystery and live comfortably with it. The pressure to know and understand everything is killing our spirits and slaying our souls. To lie before a tune, a golden sunset, the love of another is worth immeasurably more than being right a thousand times. Maybe people bring things to and end not because they haven’t got the answers but that the mystery of life is stolen and gone from them, mystery which is the nectar of the soul is stolen for a few moments. If there is any way we can counteract the forces of today’s world that are upsetting us and stealing our wellbeing it is to be a good friend of mystery. It is the spot where the true artist, composer and writer seek and it is there for us. Seamus Heaney wrote:

I went to the altar rails and received the mystery

on my tongue, returned to my place, shut my eyes fast, made

an act of thanksgiving, opened my eyes and felt

time starting up again.


Heaney didn’t have a myriad of phone chargers but he was deeply connected.

Yes Dinny is gone from us. His life ended in a way we never countenanced. If our prayers would speed his journey we’d pray for ever but we are confident that his goodness will be seen by God and that God will help him see the goodness he lost sight of in his last moments. We deal with what has happened with the support and prayers of all here, we tell stories, we remember the offerings he placed before us, we name his sacrifices which were made for many here, we immerse ourselves in a great remembering which reaches deep into the heart of things and invites us to stand on our tip toes to ponder mystery. And in this context we find a place to situate the brokenness that seemed to take over for a few moments. We realise that the only place that brokenness can be understood and welcomed is at the heart of love which is in God and in at this point we express our Communion and solidarity with one another.

These days of torment and loss are contextualised in our rituals. They don’t take the pain away but they help us bear it better. We perish when our story loses a connection with the greater stories that have stood the test of time. We highlighted this last night that for our sakes and for Dinny’s sake we need to put bits together so his perceptions are not the entire story. His sense of self when he faced his end is not all that there is. What a refreshing thought from Heaney the feeling that time can start over again; that pain and suffering and anguish is not the end…that time can start over again. This is our prayer for one another and for Dinny.

Fr Alan Hilliard









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Hospitable, Unconditional, Resilient Tess


Homily for Funeral Mass


Tess Hilliard

in the

Church of the Assumption, Walkinstown,

23rd of July 2016

tess cb

(Aunt Tess in Cathal Brugha Barracks on the occasion of her 82nd  birthday. She was born in the barracks in 1928 )

Hospitable, Unconditional, Resilient Tess

There is a saying in Gaelic which goes as follows Ní beidh a leithéid ann arís. Translated this means we’ll not see their likes again. This phrase is often bandied around but in the case of Tess Hilliard it rings true. There’ll not be her likes again. She was nurtured, conditioned and influenced by a culture that we only catch sight of in books or in TV documentaries. Passing through Tallaght Hospital the other day I noted an extract from an exhibition about inner city Dublin which highlighted that in 1921 one house in Henrietta St had over one hundred residents. I cycle or walk through this street once or twice a day and I think that there are far less than one hundred on the entire street now. These were difficult times and it is not for me to infiltrate them with a rosy glow but it still formed people. The Dublin of 1928 that Tess was born into is very different to the Dublin of today. The things that formed you were based on survival, kinship and community. There was little choice and one had to make do. Everything was shared. I don’t know if it was my father or Johnny that wore a new suit to the cinema which they were attending with the latest girlfriend. The only problem was that one wore it and the other had bought it. The one that bought it had to impress their girlfriend in their working clothes while looking at the girlfriend of the brother staring starry eyed into her new catch that was resplendent in the latest and newest fashion statement. Great personal resources were employed to make life liveable. There was a lot of struggle but the days seem to have been lifted with constant laughter, good hearted slagging and a few jokes thrown in.

On a recent visit to Rwanda to study how those who were caught up in the horrible genocide survived and overcame the social and psychological impact of the murder of over one million people by neighbours and friends I learnt a lot about life. For those who don’t remember this awful event occurred when one group of people slaughtered another group of people because of their tribal and racial origins. I remember one person saying to me that governments or those in power develop strategies and we (the people) develop tactics to deal with their strategies. Tess was a master tactician. Whatever government, family, neighbourhood or life threw at her she always had a tactic to deal with it. Maybe some of the younger generation find it hard to grasp exactly what I am saying so I’ll put it another way. Recent reports on China show that one of the reason for the slowdown is the lack of management skills. When this matter was investigated further they noted that the younger Chinese had very little initiative and very little spontaneity. The researchers said this was due to the fact that they were from one child families and they were more used to doing what they were told that using any initiative; the type of initiative that many like Tess in the past used to survive in a large family that interfaced with neighbours and community in a very open way.

Tess was on the other side of the scale to Chinese management. Influenced greatly by the family she grew up with and the family that was later to  surround her she became a master tactician ensuring at every stage that there was not just enough but plenty for everyone; that included food, time and care. I was in Rome a few weeks ago and I brought back little replicas of the cross that Pope Francis wears around his neck. His cross his engraved with an image of the Good Shepherd carrying the weakest lamb over his shoulders. I gave one of these replicas to each of Tess’s children on Wednesday night when she died. I could think of no greater image for this wonderful lady as that of the Good Shepherd carrying the weakest lamb on her shoulder. Tess’s shoulders were broad and God knows at times they had to be.

There are three things in Tess’s life that I would consider to be indelible marks of God on her. You see we are told in scripture that everyone has a uniqueness that we can recognise. It is part of the deeper self-created by God that marks us out as His unique creation.  When I think of Tess I think of these three qualities that merge into one and make her who she is. These qualities are alive in the readings we just heard and resonate in her spirit. To remember them I ask you to think of Ben Hur and focus on the last word of the two H for Hospitality, U for Unconditional love and R for Resilience.

The first reading talks about hospitality. Abraham welcomes visitors that he could have turned away. He insisted that they bathe their feet and sit at his table to eat of the best. Unbeknownst to Abraham the strangers were angels of God who bestowed a blessing on them leading to both himself and his wife becoming leaders of a great nation. Not unlike Tess who has created her own great nation with twenty five grand-children and twenty five great grand-children. Tess’s hospitality was way beyond the provision of food, drink and rest which I will now expalin. I read a definition of Christian hospitality recently which said it was ‘entering into the chaos of another’s life’. Tess had the ability to step into the chaos of many of our lives. She could calm it and reassure us when we were spun out from being in the midst of that same chaos. Remember though that the hospitality of Tess brought her blessings. Today when things have become increasingly privatised and antiseptic and gated we are setting up for an explosion of depressive states, hospitality brings blessings for each of us; choosing the other way brings only smugness and isolation.

Secondly Tess’s unconditional love has to be stated. Love today comes in many forms. There is an awful lot of conditional love and it is at the heart of dysfunctionality and manipulation. I will love you if you are this that or the other. Or I will love you if you do as I command or want or need. This form of love is not really love; it’s a form of game playing and it is both inconsiderate and destructive of others. Tess’s love was unconditional; totally and utterly. Why so many you, her grandchildren and great grandchildren, found her refreshing was that she gave you a break from the game playing of conditional love that goes on in the world. She just looked at you and loved you. This is a love that it not of this world and it is modelled on God’s great love for us which is totally unconditional. The energy for this love is revealed to us in today’s second reading which tells us that if we want to love like Tess we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal. Computers, i pads and PlayStation, even the best of cars are replaced and are replaceable but unconditional love of someone is irreplaceable; that is why we are so broken hearted. Unconditional love gives you the freedom to be yourself regardless of how that self is at any point in time: broken; confused; angry; broke; upset or depressed. Conditional love will make us worse leaving you with blame and guilt. Unconditional love weaves way forward for your life and fills you with hope. Conditional love builds prison, unconditional love gives us open space where we feel warmth on our back and a spring in our step. That is the ‘U’.


The ‘R’ stands for resilience. I work in a third level institute, a university that tries to prepare people for the challenge of the work place. There is always a buzz word around to describe what the ultimate educational outcome is and the buzz word at the moment is resilience. People who can take a hit and then get on with it.  People who if they hit a water main or a cable don’t wait for the boss to come but can get on with what needs to be done. People who if a contract is lost can put it to one side and work harder on the next one. People who if there is difficulty don’t end up in a heap but can integrate the trials and tribulations of life into their person and become wiser and more mature. People who don’t spend their time back-biting or blaming to give themselves an elevated sense of importance but people can define themselves by their own vision and not the faults of others. When I listen to all the academics wondering what it the latest publication on resilience I often think they’d be better off getting people like Tess in to talk to the students. Tess and others like her are resilience on legs. Like Martha in the Gospel and like Tess too we have to choose what it the better part and not be victims of circumstances. Thankfully we are surrounded by great examples of this.


What we do today is put mortal remains to rest. A mortal remains that carried a great treasure; this treasure lives on however as it is the uniqueness of Tess that we pray dwells in God’s eyes and heart for eternity. Her Hospitality, Unconditional love and her Resilience are born of her spirit which was deeply nurtured by her belief in things unseen but of which we are given glimpses in the person of Jesus whom she loved. May our deep sense of loss not lead us to despair but lead us to contemplate the well of richness from which Tess drew all her life and may we aspire to bring her values and those of the Gospel to our world. Amen

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Matt Kiernan (30th Anniversary)

30th Anniversary Mass for Matt Kiernan

Uilleann Pipe Maker and Musician

Parish of Christ the King, Cabra,

Saturday the 16th of July 2016

john sheahan

 (John Sheahan, a frequent visitor to Matt’s house on Offaly Road)

There is a story told of a set of twins who when they started school confounded the teachers; one was a complete moaner, the other never stopped showing appreciation for all that was done for him. They had the same DNA, the same upbringing so counsellors, psychologists and every other  -ologist was totally dumbfounded. They set up an experiment, a controlled experiment as they call them. One child, the moaner, was placed in the room with the best and latest of everything including computers, tablets, i-watches, PlayStation. The other child, well it was a bit of a problem to find something that no child could possibly be happy with and all those with -ologists at the end of their name chose to give him a bag of horse manure!

When the time for observing the experiment came along all the –ologists went to the room where the moaner was and sure enough he was giving out socks about battery life and not having the latest model. Then they went to the next room where the child with the more positive disposition was exploring the bag of horse manure. They thought he’s be giving out and complaining that his twin brother was given the latest electronic gadgetry – but against their expectations there he was, up to his elbows in horse manure, a big smile on his face saying ‘there has to be a horse here some-where!’

What has this story got to do with the 30th anniversary of an Uilleann Pipe Maker, life here in Cabra and more importantly I suppose, todays’ Gospel? I spent many a day in Cabra up to my elbows in horse manure. Once a year my grandfather ordered a load of this steaming pungent mass which arrived on a truck or a horse drawn carriage. We spent the morning unloading it and the afternoon laying it out in drills that were to be soon planted with seed potatoes, cabbages, onions, scallions and lettuces. Much to the horror of some of the Dublin neighbours; potatoes, cabbages, onions and scallions and lettuces were planted in the front garden. The garden was a fertile place and as I walk through these streets today I see all that fertility capped with concrete so the car can be tucked in off the road.

I was telling this story of one of my colleagues in Bolton St. He is an engineer and he once worked for CIE. He told me that when they built Heuston Station the foundations ran deep and much of the soil was dredged and moved up to the area that is now called Cabra. That soil was rich and nutritious silt from the bed of the River Liffey. That deep rich black soil always mesmerized me. That information made me realise why my grandfather’s garden was so rich and bountiful. He never took it for granted though. He helped the soil remain strong and vibrant with an annual delivery of horse manure.

Cabra was a fertile place, a place of growth and energy. While my grandfather nurtured many of us thorough his good organic vegetables and apples Matt Kiernan nurtured the world of music though his unselfish service of the Uilleann pipes, pipers and Irish traditional musicians in general. He gave all at a time when Uilleann piping could have disappeared. Like Abraham in our first reading Matt extended hospitality to everyone who crossed the door for a tune or to consider buying set of pipes. It is hard to believe that to play a tune back the years one had to find a home to play in as pubs were not open to musicians playing on their premises.  As Eileen O’Brien often reminds us in her matter of fact Tipperary way ‘sure what’s all this fuss about pubs wasn’t it the homes that were the homes to Irish music in the past’. Indeed when a young couple were ‘walking out’ before they were married they passed down Offaly Road and they heard music coming from number 19. They ventured up to the door to find five musicians with their heads down into tunes. So impressed were that couple that they bought the house next door and Maura Hackett and Tom Meehan were to become lifelong neighbours and great friends of Matt. Leaving the house that day Tom said to his fiancée as he looked at number 21 which was for sale ‘If we get this house we’ll always have music’. Never a truer word was spoken.

Both my grandfather and Matt were not given to neglect. When it came to others and the service of something greater you simply got on with it. In the spirit of today’s Gospel they choose the better part. I don’t know if my grandfather ever heard Matt play the pipes but I could surmise that he benefited from my grandfather’s produce because I know that the Meehan’s were beneficiaries of his garden and if it ended up in Maura’s kitchen I’m sure it ended up providing sustenance to Matt. Before ever the European Union thought of cross border trade, items crossed fences and hedges at a rate of knots in this little area of Cabra, apple tarts, jams, heads of cabbages, a bag of spuds, a few onions knotted together, a loaf of brown bread and even on waiting day (usually a Thursday for those waiting for the wages to come home on a Friday) the odd toilet roll, a cup of milk, a bit of carbolic soap or even a few scones to alleviate the wait. This trade was conducted without penalty or tax. These actions were inspired by duty, love and habit.

Matt’s commitment to the pipes and piping was part and parcel of that spirit. To do the better thing is nearly always without thought to title, reward or affirmation. Matt’s only delight was that the music was passed on. He saw the door was closing on things traditional and he stuck his stubborn foot in to hold open a chink of light. As evidence of this one of the greatest delights of his life was when Seamus Meehan, the young lad next door decided to take up piping. He saw not just a happy child but a future for what he believed in and loved.

Matt or Mattie was many things; a father, a Garda, a craftsman and a musician. We focus on the last two today. In the spirit of today’s readings we conclude by noting that hospitality bears greater fruit than the individualism and protectionism that is an ever growing reality today. Our second reading tells us that we are not possessors of the greater things but mere stewards and arising from that is the responsibility to steward these good things into the future without thought of oneself. This demands a generosity of spirit that was part and parcel of who Matt was. There were and are many like him. We now know if it wasn’t for Matt’s stewardship piping may not have achieved what it has achieved today and we can be but in awe of the spirt of those that have fostered this revival.

The Gospel tells us that Mary chose the better part. For us to choose what is good, for us to be able to sit at the feet of greatness we have to acknowledge that others have played their part. To allow others sit at the feet of greatness today the task falls on us all to lift the concrete capping that is placed on so much creativity and life and let the good things flourish. Mattie may be buried in Holy Ground in Ballivor but thankfully all that he believed in and loved was not capped with concrete.

A final thought as I race through childhood memories of this church brimming over.  As I and as we note the decline in attendance and a growth in busyness about many things, communities of faith have a lot to learn from the revival in piping. What is at the heart of revival? What is the energy of revival? What is the price and cost of revival? If these questions are to be answered one could do worse than start with Matt or Mattie. The better things do not come about by accident but they can be lost by neglect and can even be lost in the presence of good intentions.

I thought it appropriate to finish with an extract from a prayer by Archbishop Oscar Romero the Archbishop of San Salvador who was martyred for his people in 1980:

This is what we are about.

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master
builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.


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