Homily of Father Gerard O’Connor CSsR for the Funeral Mass of Desmond O’Malley RIP

23 Jul 2021

  • 12.00pm Funeral Mass celebrated in the Church of the Sacred Heart Donnybrook, Archdiocese of Dublin


A friend of the O’Malley family, Father Gerard O’Connor CSsR, was chief celebrant for the funeral Mass today for the late Desmond O’Malley RIP in the Church of the Sacred Heart, Donnybrook, Dublin.  This Mass was concelebrated by Monsignor Ciarán O’Carroll, Parish Priest of Donnybrook, and Father Leonard Moloney SJ, Provincial of the Irish Jesuit Province.

Homily of Father O’Connor

Behaviour Unbecoming

The Title of a book is important. If Michelle Obama’s book is Becoming, what does it say about Des O’Malley, that the word Unbecoming dominates the Title of his Memoir?

The Nigerian author Ngozi Adichie, writes: “It’s not your job to be likeable. It’s your job to be yourself”. Des never quite dropped the habit of calling a spade a spade. His famous, 1985 Dáil speech, demonstrated that Des was never going to be one of the lads.

Wild and Precious Life

Dwelling on that 1985 speech, I found myself thinking of the poet Mary Oliver’s question about what each of us plans to do with our one wild, precious life.

Des O’Malley lived one wild, precious life:

  • An active member of Saint Vincent de Paul, while in school, visiting, some of the poorest families in Limerick city.
  • Appointed as a political novice to the hottest seat in the Government.
  • Red paint and coffins being thrown into the family home in Limerick.
  • His In-laws in Tyrone, their pub being bombed twice.
  • Playing Golf at 40 degree Celsius in Iraq.
  • Being involved in a serious car crash.
  • Founding a political party.
  • Surviving 34 years in Dáil Éireann.
  • Accused of having ideas.

A Mixture of John F Kennedy and John Paull II

At a political rally, in the West of Ireland, Councillor Joe Burke from Tuam, who was running for the PD’s, in a descriptive moment of genius, described Des O’Malley as a combination of the best of John F Kennedy and Pope John Paul II.  I understand that Des, was mortified, and was heard to utter a string of impolite words.

Perhaps, Joe Burke, was reading Emmanuel Mounier, the French Philosopher and Theologian.

Mounier, in a clever piece of writing, observed, that: “The political temperament which lives by arrangements and compromises, and the prophetic temperament which lives by mediation and spiritual valour, cannot as a rule co-exist in the same person”.

Mounier argued passionately, that to achieve great things in the world, that “it is indispensable that we bring men of both kinds into reciprocal and complimentary action”. Des O’Malley brought an incredibly valuable temperament to Irish politics.

From 1985 onwards, Des regularly advocated that: The best role for faith is to challenge politics and to hold the public square morally accountable to values derived from a position of faith- even though it must be made clear that religion has no monopoly on morality. And that we must learn how the wisdom from other faith, spiritual, and secular moral traditions contributes to our understanding of the common good.

Des had a powerful message, that has shaped my vocation: and it is this: Instead of trying to dominate the public square, faith communities should seek to inform and inspire it. Faith communities should prefer authenticity over conformity, reflection over certainty, leadership by example and not by control.

Des O’Malley was a powerful persuader for Pluralism.

Republican Democracy

The Theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, argues, that: “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary”. CS Lewis said that we need democracy not because we are so good because we are not.  Des O’Malley, believed strongly, that Republicanism was perhaps the most abused word in Ireland.  Des, fought persistently to articulate an enlightened understanding and vision of authentic Republicanism.  At a threshold moment, in our country’s history, in the early nineteen seventies, Des O’Malley, carried a scary burden for a young man, and displayed a tenacity and courage, that was instrumental in enhancing our democracy, and preventing civil war.

Political Impact

The early days of the PD’s was like a Start-Up on steroids.

It was a time when people began to feel politically homeless in the raging battles between civil war ideology, that left the economy wrecked, and the IMF a looming dark presence, about to descend cruelly into ordinary people’s lives.

Des O’Malley, refused to be labelled, either as left or right, but sought to find the right balance between principle and pragmatism.

Des had a commitment to the common good, and I like to say, that Des didn’t go right, and didn’t go left, but went deeper. 

Des wanted to let everyone know that the final barrier to democracy is the power of money over politics.

Des had a charism, and for many PD members, the party became a village.  He stood up for an ideal, and, despite difficult times, and gloomy forecasts, he had a capacity, in the words of Robert Kennedy to send forth “tiny ripples of hope.”

In modern day politics, message discipline, is considered pivotal. Let’s recall, some of the unforgettable, message discipline form Dessie’s time:

  • Breaking the Mould.
  • People before Territory.
  • Employment Empowers.
  • Forced emigration from our island is not inevitable.
  • We can create jobs for our people.
  • We need to learn from our mistakes in building public housing without services for the people so that they can thrive.
  • A budget is a moral document.

It was Teddy Rosevelt, who said about those who climb into the Political Arena:

“It is not the critic who counts, but the competitor “who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deeds….who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievements, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly”.

Des O’Malley dared greatly.


Kahil Gibran has an interesting reflection on Family. Writing in the Prophet, he expresses himself like this:

“Your children are not your children. They come through you but not from you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts”.

The writer Elisabeth Stone says that having a child is like deciding to have your heart go walking around outside your body.

Des and Pat O’Malley, for decades with six children, had their hearts, almost in a perpetual walk, outside their bodies. In a lengthy conversation with Des O’Malley, that I had with him in Vincent’s Hospital, Des spoke movingly and beautifully about his pride and love for each of his six children.

I thought to myself, afterwards, that Des may have managed, to transmit his love to them, whatever about his thoughts, as each of the six O’Malley’s are in their own right, distinctly interesting and independent thinkers. And then, you wonder, where did they pick-up that independent streak from?

If you ever, wanted to ignite conversation with Des, all you had to do was mention his grandchildren.  I watched Des’ face radiate with pride, in a Conneamara graveyard, on an August day, as his grandson, Rouairc delivered a moving oration, as we laid Pat in her perpetual bed. All of us there, wondered, will the O’Malley DNA be heard again in the Dáil? Des told me, that his grandson Donagh, has an outstanding knowledge base about sport, and that Des enjoyed his sporting interactions with him, and that Des had to dig deep, to think of an abstract question, that might knock Donagh off balance, and the question that Des came up with, was: what was Simon Zebo’s Mother’s maiden name?

The truth is Louise and Ben, Hugh and Kate, Lara, DJ , Charlie, Marta, Pepe, Harry and Hugo, it wasn’t just Rourairc or Donagh, that Des delighted in chatting about, it was each of you, a glint in his eyes would brighten up, as he spoke each of your names.

To Des’ political family, and I know so many of you are tuned in to this liturgy. I mentioned earlier that the Progressive Democrats were like a village. A small village, where members really got to know each other, love each other and annoy each other. A village that attracted residents from an array of backgrounds, citizens with bold ambition. The political legacy of the Progressive Democrats will be unquestionably critiqued in the days to come. I leave that to the commentating class!

What I would like to say today to those who joined Des, in his daring political venture, is: Whether you are still in contact with each other, or relationships became fractured along the way, breathe-in the significance of this day, and enjoy your memories, and know that in many ways, you were privileged to be involved in an exciting, and dynamic mission to break the mould and transform our island. 

There is a sentence in the First letter of Peter, from the Scriptures, that has surfaced in my mind these last days, as we navigate saying goodbye to Des: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart to sing the praises  of God who called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light”.

I understand Des O’Malley, as someone chosen by the people of Limerick. There is a bond of love and warmth and respect and admiration between the people of Limerick and Des O’Malley that is palpable to this day, and that respect was reciprocal.

Limerick sent Des O’Malley forth with a mission, to be outspoken, frank and creative in transforming our nation. I see Des O’Malley as a person apart. Together today, we sing with God, in joyful appreciation, for a light that burned brightly in our midst.

It is supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.

George Bernard Shaw, wrote beautifully,

“I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. Life is not a “brief smile” to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment; and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”

My conviction, is that the God of love, that the Scripture proclaims so beautifully, is real. I have hedged my life, on the bet, that God lives. I am not as well versed in the art of betting, as Des O’Malley, and I certainly spent way less time, at the races, than Des O’Malley, but today, I confidently bet, that Des O’Malley is with God.

In 1985, I was Nineteen years of age, when Des O’Malley made his famous, ‘I stand by the Republic’ speech. I have never forgotten, how, he looked his fellow legislators in the eyes, in the Dáil, and said: “If I were to place my trust anywhere today, before God, I would place it in the young people”.

As you go before God, Des:

We as, family and friends, are gathered around, you:

We say thank for being a splendid torch.

Thank you for your Conduct Unbecoming.

As you, on our behalf, stood by the Republic:

We stand close to you today, full of gratitude and warmth and appreciation for the gift of your presence in our lives.

We trust that you will flourish in the Republic of God. Amen.


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