Fr Gerard Farrell, O.Carm. (1914-2005)

Given at the Requiem Mass in Whitefriar Street Church, Dublin, on Monday, May 15, 2005, by C. Crowley, O.Carm.

Fr Gerard (Gerry) Farrell, O.Carm., of our Whitefriar Street Community died on Friday, 12th May 2005 in St. James’ University Hospital after a short illness. He had ministered as chaplain in that hospital when he was young in his priesthood; he was ordained priest at the age of twenty three in 1937. The hospital had then been long known as the South Dublin Union and was still under the devoted care of the Irish Sisters of Mercy as it had been since 1880. Fr. Gerry would be driven from Whitefriar Street by horse and trap when on emergency calls by night.

The week in which he died marked the sixtieth anniversary of the ending of World War II in 1945. That war and its ending seems a long time ago to most of us, ‘before our time.’ So it’s hard to believe that our Fr. Gerry Farrell was actually alive even before the beginning of the First World War, the Great War of 1914-1918, the so-called “war to end all wars.”

A Belfastman, born on January 6, 1914, Gerry grew up in Rosemount Gardens in the Falls Road area. He always took a childlike delight in telling the date of his birth: January 6, 1914, the Feast of the Epiphany he would remind us, Little Christmas, Women’s Christmas, Nollag na mBan. And we would celebrate.

I’ve heard him many times tell the story of how he came to join the Carmelites – he seemed always to relish the telling. One day when he was just sixteen years of age, his mother told him to put on his good clothes and to get his overcoat and other clothes ready. Fr. Magennis would be calling at four o’clock to take him to the novitiate. Tongue in cheek no doubt, Gerry would always insist that he then thought ‘Novitiate’ was the name of a town somewhere away down south, far over the Irish Free State Border. In the event, Fr. Magennis drove him to Dublin in the open and wind-swept back seat of a car with a roll-back top which hooded only the driver and a front seat passenger.

Whatever lay behind his chosen and constant version of the story, the fact is that Gerry’s religious vocation was fostered by that Carmelite from Belfast, a Fr. Elias Magennis who was soon to be elected first ever Irish Prior General of the Carmelite Order. Fr. Magennis brought a number of northerners into the Order and was uncle of the two Fathers McGrath, Jack and Bill, who lived and died as members of our Whitefriar Street Community. People still speak of them both with gratitude and affection.

Fr. Magennis was a staunch nationalist from what is of course a still confirmed nationalist part of Belfast. He had a strong physique and was robust in spirit as well as in body. Fr. Gerry often told how while he was Prior General and living in Rome, Fr. Magennis and Msgr. O’Hagan, the revered Rector of the Irish College, more than once made face to face representation to Pope Benedict XV. They sought their audiences to counteract what they knew to be character assasination by Westminster propaganda at the Holy See, destructively vicious and false allegations against the life conduct of prominent Catholic members of the fledgeling Irish Free State Government.

Gerry’s family had other Carmelite associations. Two of his first cousins were Discalced Carmelites and died as priests in that Order. At one time, when our Gerry was stationed in Kinsale, Co. Cork one of these men lived in the Carmelite College in Castlemartyr in the same Co. Cork, and Gerry would visit him. The second man served his Order mostly in the U.S.A. I attended a memorial Mass for him in St. Teresa’s Discalced Carmelite Church, Clarendon Street some twenty years ago.

Fr. Gerry’s late sister, Kay, whom I often visited with him in Belfast, had a prominent presence and influence among the Belfast lay Carmelites whose Chapter meets in St. Malachy’s Church. Kathleen Curran, another devoted Belfast lay Carmelite is here today and we welcome her and the prayers of the Belfast members of the Carmelite family she brings with her.

While Gerry was a student in Rome he was contemporary of several north of Ireland Carmelite students, the most celebrated among them being the late Bishop Donal Lamont from Ballycastle, Co. Antrim, who was singularly outspoken during the Liberation War in what is now the Republic of Zimbabwe. After a long trial Bishop Lamont was deported.

Fr. Gerry has lived in Whitefriar Street Priory since 1971. As well as serving as chaplain in the South Dublin Union in his early years of priesthood he served at the Carmelite Friary in Moate, Co. Westmeath, and at the friary in Kinsale, Co. Cork, from where he rode both horses and motorbikes. During the Emergency from 1939-1945, he would ride by horseback from the Carmelite Friary in Knocktopher, Co. Kilkenny to the army camp at Thomastown and minister to the soldiers there. He made many life-long friends in these places. He also served on the Carmelite foreign mission in Zimbabwe when that country was still known as Southern Rhodesia.

As he aged he liked nothing better than to go as often as he could to take exercise and good fresh air in Dublin’s Phoenix Park. He cherished freedom and drove a car. While he had T.B. as a young priest he learned to care for his health. He would often laughingly say in recent times that he should have died in 1943 when he was really very ill and not at all expected to survive.

Like Fr. Liam Nugent, another Northerner born in Enniskillen and brought up in a greatly loved Derry who died only three weeks before Gerry, and who spent much time meeting people in the church and its vicinity, Fr. Gerry, too, liked to keep and eye on all that happened in the church and in its several related ministries, and to offer suggestions as to how Carmelite services to individuals and groups might be further enhanced. He blessed throats here in the church this last St. Blaise’s day and distributed ashes for a little while on Ash Wednesday.

He always took a huge interest in current affairs and scanned or read the whole of the Irish Times every day until the day before he died. He had a long cultivated interest in nineteenth century Irish Church history, and he followed emerging strands of thought in contemporary theology and there are still two very recently published volumes by his sickbed.

Gerry had a phenomenal memory which gave a particularly challengingly and usually amazingly acute attention to detail and nuances. He loved arguments yet always maintained a gentlemanliness in encounters, reassured, I suppose, because he was confidently and habitually sure of his safely cerebrally stored knowledge. He remained fully alert, his mind bright and agile as a twelve year old’s, good humoured and witty to the end. He never, ever tired of talking. In telling stories he told them not just in certain detail but sometimes with embellishment for he knew he had a great deal of interest to share about times past and present.

Gerry had been welcomed into the Carmelite Order as a boy bordering on adulthood and maybe that is why young Carmelites were deemed so especially important by him. He was invariably welcoming, encouraging, supportive, open to new perspectives and defensive of young minds as needs be. and he died fully confident of a bright and divinely favoured, and Virgin-Mary-guided future for the Carmelite Order he had loved for a life time. He is surely enjoying glory. Amen.