Kevin was a giant of a man in so many ways. Throughout his life in all things his role was one of captain, the eldest and proud captain of the O’Neill family whom he cherished and adored, captain of many teams and associations from hurling and all things GAA, captain and initiator to the arts community bringing art and culture in a more accessible way particularly to the people of Carlow, with the establishment of the Eigse arts festival culminating in the visual arts centre, now a cathedral where creativity is celebrated, nourishing hope and inspiration. Captain not just as President of Carlow College, but as director of formation for so many young men, as they discerned their vocation, many of whom have made significant contributions as ministers of the Gospel, a Gospel vision that for Kevin fuelled his priestly life.
Perhaps it wasn’t by accident that in the dignity and gentleness of his own home in his own bed surrounded by love, he gently entered into new life on the feast of Saint Peter and Paul and for him perhaps more locally the pattern day at Saint Fintan’s well near the ancient Christian communities of Clonenagh and Cromogue.
Peter and Paul both captains of the good news, bold in their witness determined in the message that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Saviour, a God who embraces and heels, who inspires hope and confidence, who rejoices in our gifts and talents and always who loves us as we are. Kevin in his creative preaching, a gift that so enhanced our liturgies in this parish once likened the ancient Saints of Laois to a hurling team. Kevin claimed that Fintan was the captain and detailed that he looked like Joe Canning. He loved Laois. He was a Laois man true and true.
I, like many of you loved Kevin greatly, his intellect, his passion for learning and language but most of all like Peter, Paul and Fintan his vulnerability. Being a captain brings with it not just responsibility but also often at a huge personal cost.
His was a prophetic voice often crying in the wilderness. His was a Theological vision that sadly is so absent and silent in an institution that’s so starved of the likes of this prophetic voice. Caoimhin pre-empted the radical secularisation of our culture and was always up to speed regarding the signs of our times.
Kevin carried his cross of terminal illness true to form, courageous, resilient, and fiercely determined. His final weeks were grace filled weeks in his beloved ‘Emmaus’ where he like the two disciples who walked its original pathway, had time to revisit sacred memories, reunite sacred friendships and all times in the company of his wonderful family. Emmaus became a sacred place where the Risen Christ, listened, loved and healed in what is an amazing Grace.
Last night I had a deep sense of contentment and peace that Kevin now enjoys. He would have been so proud that some of his nieces and nephews played hurling outside as his remains rested in Emmaus. I heard the scripture did not our “hearts burn within us”…
Caoimhin like Peter, Paul and Fintan, you have fought the good fight, you have finished the race and you have kept the faith.