Interview with a Unitarian Church magazine.

What brought you to Unitarianism?

I think I always was a Unitarian.  My parents were traditional Catholics who espoused education, wherever it would lead.  There was always lively debate in our house, I was the oldest and I suppose I led the way in radical thought.  I then drifted along for years living I by my own ‘light’ Then, many years ago I met some American Unitarians and they identified me as Unitarian. I eventually set out to find Irish Unitarians and here I am. Other people such as my Northern Presbyterian friends, [from adult local history courses I taught in Derry], they were an influence as well.

What was your first impression of the Dublin Unitarian Church?

I felt I belonged here.

What is your idea of the perfect sermon or address?

One that holds my attention whatever the topic. Remember I came from a tradition that did not espouse preaching as the centrepiece of the service.

Do you have a word for what is ultimate?

Not really, God is to easy a word to use.  Perhaps Wordsworth: “Spirit that runs through all things.”  Yet I am not a pantheist and reserve the right to change that definition.

What living person do you most admire?

Easy, my wife she is such a dynamic achiever [in the best sense]

Who is the most interesting person you have met recently?

Two Roscommon farmers I overheard [does that constitute meet] conversing on the 07.30 train from Westport on a recent Thursday morning.

Give three words that describe you?

Focussed ordered disciplined

What is the most interesting situation /place you have been in?

Extremes — walking the wild and lonely hills of Ireland or the dusty crowded streets of Kolkata.  Equally the day we [family] climbed through the window of a deserted school called Skerdagh School in West Mayo, now we live there.

Describe the place in which you grew up and spent most of your time?

Again duality —– At home on a small farm in Donabate north county Dublin, so rural, so Kavanaghesque in the sixties, and at school in the city, O’Connell’s schools, for me such place of good memories.  I embrace both but prefer to live in rural isolation.  Luckily my family do so too.

What are some of the things about you that have not changed over the years?

I love the mysterious mountains; I love the Dublin sense of humour.  I always want to be open to ideas, to the unexpected.

What do you consider your most significant achievements?

Very difficult to answer, being contented for myself would be high on my list.  As Dylan Thomas wrote, being “and happy as the grass was green” that’s an important achievement in my estimation.

Do you have a family?

Yes and I am immensely proud of Alastair and Sinead, both are finished college and now working.  There is only Pauline and I at home again after all those years.  Yet we all have a strong sense of family.  Sinead is a member of the Unitarian church, Pauline,  is not a member but espouses the views of a Unitarian, Alastair is a confirmed member of the First Church of Rugby and Cycling and any other sport that can be engaged in on a Sunday morning.

What do you most deplore in yourself?

Sometimes I do not know when to stop talking.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Simple, buying books and driving 163 mile to church and 163 miles home again.

What single thing would most improve the quality of your life?

More reflection time, more “calm” time.

What is the most important thing life has taught you?

Do not be afraid to Dream, you will get by!!!

With hindsight what would you have done differently?

Nothing really, what if a butterfly in the Amazon Basin had flown right instead of left?

How would you like to be remembered?

As an honourable person:

“Let them remember that I walked in fair Natures light

And that I was loyal to truth and to right”

Who is your favourite author?

I consume novels for fodder ……… poets for ideas, so Eliot and Yeats.

What is your favourite poem?

The Four Quartets by TS Eliot
“In my beginning is my end, in succession
houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended
are removed, destroyed restored, or in their place
is an open field or a factory or a bypass.
Old stone to new Building,…..”
East  Coker.

What is in your player at the moment?

It holds three at a time so…..
Red river shore, Dylan.
Trumpet Concerto, Telemann.
‘Cross the green mountain, Dylan

Have you read the Bible?

Bits and pieces, usually the poetic.

Do you believe in life after death?

I do not have faith but !!! I am an optimist.

What is your favourite quotation?

“Chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf the blossom or the bole?
O Body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?”

from “Among school children” Yeats

See also the Dublin Unitarian Church website


About the Author:

Joe is an author, poet, historian, and guided walks consultant. He lives in Newport, Co. Mayo. Scriptwriter and presenter of “Old Port to Newport”, Joe McDermott is the author of a number of fiction and non-fiction books including Sheegorey (historical fiction), the History of St. Mary’s Hospital, Castlebar, as well as hiking guide books such as The Western Way, The Bangor Trail, and The Foxford Way.

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