Rev. Desmond Forristal: A Scholar, Playwright, Television Producer, and More

Document of the Day: By Ranju Upadhyay, Maynooth University Libraryarchives explored


When I was young my grandmother used to read Mahabharata, one of the Hindu epics, to us. In this epic narrative that has hundreds of characters and touches almost all aspects of life and society, Krishna the Omnipresent fascinated me the most. He is probably one of the most versatile characters one would find. However he is a mythical character! There is a possibility that he could exist in our imaginations but not necessarily in reality.

Portrait of the Forristal Family, c. 1940s
Portrait of the Forristal Family,  c. 1940s

When I came across the Rev. Desmond Forristal Archive in the Library at Maynooth University, I was amazed by this multi-talented figure. Forristal was a scholar, playwright, television producer, musician, an author and more.





The Archive includes a series of homilies written by Forristal between 1988 and 1994. Some of the lines from one document tell us that he was a profound thinker:

“Much of the conflict in the world today is caused by the oppression and ill-treatment of the minorities”.  (1 January 1989).

Homily by Rev Desmond Forristal
Homily by Rev Desmond Forristal, 5 November 1989

And deeply spiritual as well:

“Every exit is an entrance somewhere else… That is what death is. Our friends, our loved ones, leave the stage. We can see them going. We can’t see where they go. We can only sit there and wonder. ” (5 November 1989).

And may have held quite traditional views at times:

“Divorce does not just undermine marriage. It abolishes marriage. It rewrites the marriage vows until they are empty of all meaning.” (2 October 1994).

Recently, I have been reading a book by Shashi Tharoor, Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, and was amazed at the extent of injustice committed in what was considered a democratic and liberal empire. Forristal’s book The Bridge at Lo Wu: a life of Sister Eamonn O’Sullivan, a biography of an Irish missionary in China, reflects the sufferings of people under communist rule in China. The interesting observation for me was the similar nature of these injustices. Well of course I think these two political systems have the same basic principle i.e. “everyone is equal” and not the opposite. However, when we look at different stages of time, including the present, both these political systems seem to have managed to treat people most unequally and unjustly.

In one of her letters home, Sister Eamonn reflects on the tyranny of communist guerrillas:

“It would be an easy thing to be killed: there are worst things than death”.

Of course the several different religions that in essence have a simple idea of “faith” have created their own share of problems at different points in time and continue to do so. I myself am neither religious nor have strong political views. The only philosophy that has ever influenced me is “Life is all about balance”. But the point here is that every time I go through an archival collection it proves to be a beautifully rigorous, thought-provoking exercise. And I think that is the beauty of our archives, so well preserved is the past that every time I visit it becomes alive.

Rev. Desmond Forristal’s contribution is much more than the simple political or religious expressions that I have highlighted. His association with Irish television broadcasting through his films and TV series, with the Gate Theatre through his plays, and of course his association with the church through several parishes he served, shows his genuinely versatile personality.

The papers, writings and books of Rev. Desmond Forristal were donated to the Library at Maynooth University in 2001 by his brother, Ciarán.

Photograph of Rev Desmond Forristal playing the piano
Photograph of Rev Desmond Forristal playing the piano, c. 1960s



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