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Bishop Denis’ Homily from Mass remembering Msgr Caoimhin O’Neill, Carlow College

Mass remembering Msgr. Caoimhín Ó Néill RIP:                                 25.09.23

Carlow College, St. Patricks @ 1.30pm during Convocation


I welcome you to the College Chapel as we honour Msgr. Caoimhín and give thanks for the memories, memories that in some respect keep those we lose in death to be somehow still alive for us.

It’s hard to believe it is very close to three months since Caoimhín’s passing on June 29th. A passing that was in many respects swift, as most outside of his family and close circle of friends weren’t really aware of the very resilient journey he had travelled with illness over more recent times.

Caoimhín was such a presence here in the College, holding many roles from 1972 to 2015, over a period of 43 years, nearly half of those years serving with distinction as its nineteenth President. It’s very appropriate we gather during convocation time to give thanks for his presence here.

I welcome family members who join with members of the staff, members of the Governing Body, the Property Trustees and other friends this Monday afternoon. I welcome warmly the Cathaoirleach of Carlow County Council, Cllr. Andrea Dalton and the Mayor of Carlow, Cllr. Tom O’Neill.

Luke is very definite that the place for a lamp is on a lamp-stand so that it gives out as much light as possible. Caoimhín was a light in this College, in his family, in our diocese. We miss him, not because he would always agree with us, in fact he more likely would robustly disagree, but after the interaction you would have felt the better for his perspective.

So as with all light, there are shadows and shades, in gathering to offer these sacred mysteries, let us call to mind our sins and pray for God’s love and mercy …


In exactly three months’ time we will celebrate Christmas Day – December 25th. Perish the thought! Even the early radio advertisements give us all a shiver. And three months ago, June 25th, was in fact the occasion of my very last visit with Caoimhín. It was after the Annual Ecumenical Embrace Farm Accident Service in Abbeyleix. I had had a number of phone conversations with him over the previous weeks and each time as I proffered to visit, he would put me off, not to be bothering with the journey, he was doing fine etc etc etc.

This time I phoned him from the church sacristy and to my surprise, he readily agreed. I treasure that visit, as ever that razor sharp conversation despite the obvious pain and discomfort he must have been experiencing, a conversation which was as ever rich in span and content. Then to receive the phonecall a short four days later that Caoimhín had passed into eternity was as surprising for me as it was for the many others who received that news. But how happy I was to have spent time with him this very day three months ago.

Three months later we gather, as we promised we would, and only right and fitting to mark his passing here in a College that was by far the biggest chunk of his life. When priests pass into eternity and too many have over the past nine months, I always take time to read the tributes posted by friends and acquaintances on the condolence section of Unsurprisingly there were reams of tributes for Caoimhín that spoke of his skills and innate talent for leadership, tributes that spoke of his love for all things Irish, tributes that spoke of his appreciation of culture, sport and the arts, tributes that spoke of him as sagart, as formator, as friend.

Since his Requiem on July 1st , celebrated by Fr. Conn, I received messages of condolences from different bodies and groups. Two immediately come to mind this afternoon, Carlow County Council who unanimously passed a vote of sympathy in July on his passing and Carlow Historical and Archaeological Society who expressed their condolences following their September meeting. Both bodies would have huge reason to thank Caoimhín for his contribution to the arts, culture and our heritage, conscious that an appreciation of where we’ve come from allows us to take more confidently the next steps in life. 

Caoimhín’s passing brings me back to the day of John Cummins freak accident outside the Parochial House in Abbeyleix. Caoimhín was the one I phoned then to be with John and to stay with him until I got there. Both Caoimhín and myself shared a friendship in the years since with the Garda who comforted us that raw Wednesday evening in January. Garda Elaine Horan wrote to me following Caoimhín’s death. She had visited Laois in July only to be told then of his death and on hearing the news she revisited her many conversations with him of ballet in Russia to the classical composers, conversations of places like India, China, art and of course conversations of GAA coming as Elaine did from a staunch Mayo football family.

When someone dies there are always gaps to be filled in. There are always questions maybe left unanswered. How would they have reacted? How would they have responded? St. Luke in his gospel offers us the image of a lamp being placed on a lampstand “No one lights a lamp to cover it with a bowl or put it under a bed. No, he puts it on a lamp-stand so that people may see the light when they come in[1]. I was curious of this image of lampstand. I couldn’t imagine Luke going to Harvey Norman, Meubles or Allens, so where does this image originate?

If we go the Book of Revelations we see the threat is made of removing the lampstand  “I shall come to you and take your lamp-stand from its place[2]. In other words St. John is telling us the result would be darkness, living in the shadows, living in the shade.

The Christian life, which all the baptised, like Msgr. Caoimhín Ó Néill are invited to live is one where we live in the light. Afterall Christ often identifies himself as the “light of the world[3]. In simple language we are asked to be a light for others to follow.

Caoimhín was that light. He has gone from our midst. We give thanks for his presence among us … May he rest in peace. Amen.   

[1] Lk.8:16

[2] Rv.2:5

[3] Jn.8:12