Arts

Fr Brian D'Arcy: Ex-taoiseach Albert Reynolds kick-started my writing career

Broadcaster and columnist Fr Brian D'arcy has sold well over 100,000 books and written millions of words in newspaper columns over the last four decades. He tells Joanne Sweeney how his new book Gold Collection has already sold thousands in less than a month

Fr Brian D'Arcy at Tobar Mhuire in Crossgar Picture: Mal McCann

ASIDE from being one of architects who helped bring about the IRA ceasefire which precipitated the peace process, former taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader Albert Reynolds has another legacy; he encouraged a young pop music-mad seminarian to write about his passion.

That man was Fr Brian D'Arcy, one of the most well-known and loved Catholic priests of his time, who has since become a best-selling writer, newspaper columnist and broadcaster over the last four decades.

Aside from his weekly broadcasts on BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Radio 2, Fermanagh man D'Arcy has written – and never missed a deadline for – his column in the Sunday World for the past 41 years which, at 1,200 words a time, totals over 2.5 million words in print.

Added to that, the Passionist priest, who is now based at the Tobar Mhuire Retreat Centre in Crossgar, Co Down, released Gold Collection, his 17th book, last month.

Just like his other books, it has already sold well – the proceeds of his writing go to support charities to help the poor and homeless at home and abroad.

"Normally my books would eventually sell between 8,000 and 10,000 copies. Initially only 4,000 of my new book Gold Collection was published in hardback and they were gone within four days so it's being published in paperback now," says D'Arcy.

He contends that he had never thought of writing before a young entrepreneur, magazine publisher and fellow lover of the show-band scene in Dublin, Albert Reynolds, encouraged him to write.

Ahead of appearing with country stars Nathan Carter on last night's Nolan show, he told me: "I've always been interested in pop music. It's the old story, write about what you know. I started writing in 1965 for a paper called The Dancing News which was started by Albert Reynolds who at that time had 17 ballrooms and no notion of politics at all.

"He stopped me in the street in Dublin when I was still a student at UCD and said: 'You know all the bands, so write me for me – I won't be able to pay you.' I said I'm not even allowed to read the paper [as a clerical novice] never mind write for it but it was suggested that I write under the pen name of Hughie (taken after his famous GAA player dad Hugh D'Arcy) and I did that for five years."

He later was asked to write for the Catholic news magazine The Cross, which he went on to edit for five years.

It was through his late friend, the Dublin journalist Kevin Marron, that he was asked to write his weekly column, inadvertently becoming the inspiration for his other late friend Dermot Morgan's character, Fr Ted Crilly of Father Ted fame.

"Father Ted used to be Father Trendy and it was based on me but that association has turned out to be the bane of my life," says D'Arcy.

All but one of his books are based on excerpts from his sermons, newspaper columns and broadcasts.

"I've only written one book about me and that was A Different Journey, about 10 years ago. That sold about 60,000 copies," says the 72-year-old. "That was more of a memoir and it's probably time to do another on, to be honest.

"I actually didn't feel like doing the first one but it was around that time that certain things had been said about some of my colleagues after they died that couldn't be contradicted by them so I decided to write my own account and put it out there, like to say, 'If there's anything you want to come after me for, come after me now when I'm alive.'"

While he has a gentle personality, he has been a controversial figure in the Catholic Church which tried to censure his newspaper columns in 2012 as it was claimed that what he was writing was contrary to Church teachings. However, he refused and that threat to censure was lifted, he believes, with Pope Francis's papacy the following year.

“Over the years I have learned that people like good thoughts in small portions," says D'Arcy. "I have discovered that the short inspirational snippets that I regarded as ‘fillers' meant more to the readers and listeners than the main articles. People still write in for copies of the reflections.

"Gold Collection is full of easy-to-read, meaningful and helpful thoughts, jokes and stories to inspire readers of all ages. Little things still mean a lot. St Paul in his writings frequently made the point that whilst we enjoy the meat in the meals, it's the snacks that keep us going. That's how I regard these reflections, quotations, inspirational snippets and pointed stories.

“There comes a time in life when all we need is a small injection of spiritual encouragement. In this book you will find some of the most requested reflections from the last 10 years.

“I have thrown in a few new ones just to whet your appetite. I thank all the people who have contributed quotations and reflections over the years. Mostly I have no idea who the source of the inspiration is but please take this as my special thanks to you. Never underestimate the value of a good deed.”

But how does he account for his ability to connect with people through his words?

"There's really no magic. What you see sitting here is what you get – what writes, what broadcasts and gives sermons. My father gave me great advice. He told me that you had to be really intelligent and have a great memory to tell lies, so you would be better to tell the truth and I've stuck with that."

:: Gold Collection by Brian D'Arcy, priced at €14.99, is published by Columba Press and available from www.columba.ie

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