Widespread shock at death of Fr Kevin McNamara, a priest who was 'one of a kind'

Kerry Diocese mourns the passing of a much-loved priest who was 'a great believer in the public pulpit'
Widespread shock at death of Fr Kevin McNamara, a priest who was 'one of a kind'

The late Fr Kevin McNamara reached out to his flock via newspaper columns, and even via a billboard humorously urging the faithful to pay more heed to the 40 days of Lent than to '50 Shades of Grey'. Picture: Eamonn Keogh

The Diocese of Kerry has expressed its “widespread shock” at the unexpected death of the much-loved priest and columnist Fr Kevin McNamara.

Fr Kevin, as he was affectionately known, was in hospital for a number of days when he suddenly took ill and died. It is understood the 66-year-old had been admitted for a planned procedure.

From Cooraclare in West Clare,  Fr Kevin was blessed with the gift of communicating with the masses and he used several channels to help spread the word over the years.

He was ordained in 1981 as a Missionaries of the Sacred Heart priest, serving first in Liverpool, then in Kirby, before he returned to Ireland to serve as parish priest of the Sacred Heart Parish on Cork’s Western Rd from 1993 to 1999.

It was during this time that he wrote a weekly column for The Echo, and later for The Muskerry Leader community paper in Ballincollig.

He organised two novenas annually which attracted huge crowds, and he often arranged for a chip van to park outside the church to feed the crowds.

Fr Kevin McNamara 'could read a passage from the Gospel and then apply it to his own life,' according to documentary film-maker Alex Fegan. Picture: Eamonn Keogh/MacMonagle
Fr Kevin McNamara 'could read a passage from the Gospel and then apply it to his own life,' according to documentary film-maker Alex Fegan. Picture: Eamonn Keogh/MacMonagle

He later transferred to the Kerry diocese where he served in Kenmare, Killarney, and in Gneeveguilla/Knocknagree where, during Lent in 2015, he seized on the 50 Shades of Grey frenzy and erected a large eye-catching sign outside his church with the words: “Whatever about the 50 shades — remember the 40 days!”

Fr Kevin said he was “a great believer in the public pulpit” and he wanted to remind people Lent was a time of renewal and joy. 

He then moved to Moyvane, where he celebrated drive-in masses during lockdown, and more recently to Glenflesk.

He also featured in the RTÉ TV documentary, The Confessors, in which he spoke openly about how the church has been very hurtful to women and about the upset he felt at the flood of revelations of child sexual abuse perpetrated by the clergy.

Documentary film-maker Alex Fegan described Fr Kevin as “one of a kind” with a gift for communicating.

“He could read a passage from the Gospel and then apply it to his own life, taking you back to his childhood or his teenage years, and you really did listen. He brought the gospel to life for people,” he said.

He was such a unique man, a man of enormous faith but one who was also very honest about the shortcomings of the church.

Fr Kevin also regularly spoke out on issues of faith and society.

In 2017, he lodged a complaint with the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) after Blindboy Boatclub of The Rubberbandits described the Eucharist as 'haunted bread' during a panel discussion on The Late Late Show. His complaint was ultimately rejected by the BAI.

Last April, he objected to a depiction of confession on the RTÉ soap Fair City and asked his parishioners to question why they should pay their TV licence. He later said he forgave RTÉ after the broadcaster made contact and apologised for any offence.

 Fr Kevin celebrating with the Sam Maguire Cup at the Ring of Kerry Cycle celebration in The Gleneagle Hotel in 2006. Picture: Eamonn Keogh/MacMonagle
Fr Kevin celebrating with the Sam Maguire Cup at the Ring of Kerry Cycle celebration in The Gleneagle Hotel in 2006. Picture: Eamonn Keogh/MacMonagle

He also criticised Pope Benedict XVI for “fast-tracking” the beatification of Pope John Paul, and the government for slashing spending in rural areas,

In a statement, the Diocese of Kerry expressed its widespread shock and sadness at his sudden death 

“We all regret his passing. Rest in peace Fr Kevin,” the statement, on behalf of Bishop Ray Browne, said.

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