Remembering Fr Martin Clarke

He made much of the time he was given

Brenda Drumm

I met Fr Martin Clarke for the first time at my interview for the job of Communications Officer with the Catholic Communications Office (CCO) back in the summer of 2000. I was nervous about the interview panel but he immediately put me at ease. I came to learn this was one of his many human qualities. I was successful with my application and began work with the CCO 13 years ago next month, in November 2000.

At that time the CCO was in many ways being established in Maynooth as a result of the merger between Fr Martin’s office as principal spokesperson and the Catholic Press and Information Office in Booterstown.

This movement and change was part of a much wider restructuring of the councils, agencies and offices of the Bishops’ conference that was taking place at the time.

At that time we had a small team of three people, so I had to very quickly learn the ropes of what was and still is a very busy office.


I joined the CCO just before we entered into a very challenging time for media relations and the Catholic Church in Ireland. But Fr Martin was a wonderful teacher and mentor. He was patient and kind in the way he dealt with people. He had great attention to detail which he honed during his time studying and then practising law as a solicitor. When Martin gave me a project to work on, I could always follow the details because he had laid them out so meticulously.


Martin always had a wonderful rapport with young people and this obviously came from his work with Catholic Youth Care and St Kevin’s Young Adult Community in Dublin. I was always struck by his energy and positivity concerning all his pastoral responsibilities.

A late vocation, Fr Martin was a happy priest and he was always willing to share his vocation story and journey as a way of inspiring others to seize the moment, to aim high. He was prayerful and spiritual and always took great care in his pastoral duties.

Sense of humour

Martin had a great sense of humour and some of his puns were often just what a particular moment needed. He also had an amazing recall for quotes which he used to great effect in interviews with the media.

I worked with Martin for three years. Some of the big issues we worked on in those days were: child safeguarding, policing in Northern Ireland, the 2002 abortion referendum, the establishment of Day for Life in Ireland and the 2002 meeting between the Northern Church leaders and the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair. It was under Martin’s stewardship that the CCO began to embrace new communications and established the first website for the bishops’ conference. While times were challenging they were also exciting and Martin was always very encouraging to his staff when it came to additional learning and training.


When I was diagnosed with cancer in 2007 Martin was one of my first visitors. He sat with me and listened, he prayed with me and offered great support to my family. He encouraged me and assured me that there is life after a diagnosis with serious illness.

The way he bore his own illness and the many health setbacks he had, was inspiring not only to me but to anyone who knew him.

I think I am a better person for having known Martin for just a few of his 66 years and the world is certainly a duller place now that he has left it. May he rest in peace.

Brenda Drumm is Communications Officer with the Catholic Communications Office.


He was a youth minister at heart

Ger Gallagher

I first met Fr Martin in the early 1990s. For many years I was aware of his reputation animating and developing opportunities for young people tobe part of the Church. He was one of the key founders and contributors to contemporary youth ministry.

In the 1980s and early 1990s it was appealing to work with young people. Around Ireland there were some legends in youth ministry responding to the needs of young people within the Church. In Limerick there was Fr Micheal Liston. Kildare and Leighlin had Fr Joe Mc Dermott. Dublin had Fr Martin Clarke. He had a reputation and a gravitas that nurtured and capitulated youth ministry onto a new footing.

He was appointed director of the Catholic Youth Council in 1983, where he remained until 1996. Pre-1983 he volunteered as a youth club leader in Blackrock College. He also attended and facilitated workshops at many of the Red Island seminars and was active on several CYC voluntary committees. It was these experiences that enabled him as director of CYC to be creative in the expansion and decentralisation of some of the services provided by Archdiocese of Dublin to young people.


In the 1980s youth unemployment, anti-social behaviour, emigration and drugs were widespread throughout Dublin and beyond. Parishes found it difficult to reach out to young people. In 1985 the ëCostelloí Report was published. This government report was based on the examination of needs of young people and recommended how youth services might be structured.  CYC under the direction of Fr Martin responded by developing new services for young people in some of the marginal areas of the city and beyond.


As diocesan youth director he was involved in the drafting of a pastoral letter to young people The Young Church, published by the bishops of Ireland. He took his appointment as secretary to the National Committee for Diocesan Youth Directors seriously. He supported many dioceses around the country that were beginning to develop youth ministry. As director of the largest Catholic youth organisation he embarked on some new innovative directions for what was called youth ministry. He also co-edited Mustard Seeds ñ Youth Ministry in Ireland Today.

In 1984 along with Fr Dermod Mc Carthy he began St Kevinís Young Adult Community. This was a celebration of the Eucharist for young people. It took place in St Kevinís oratory, at the back of the Pro-Cathedral. St Kevinís, as it became known, used the music of TaizÈ, an ecumenical monastery in France.

It appealed to young people as they sang sitting on the floor, in candlelit darkness. It was different. In time hundreds of young people attended on a Saturday evening. Fr Martin was faithful to this ministry until his departure from CYC.

St Kevinís was inspired also by Fr Martinís visits to TaizÈ in France, Teach Bride in Tullow and Aras Mhuire in Limerick. Pilgrimages began to TaizÈ and Fr Martin led many summer and winter pilgrimages.

He also oversaw the development of two purpose built houses of prayer in Glendassan Valley in the parish of Glendalough. Teach ChoimhÌm and Teach LorcaÌn since the 1990s have been places where thousands of young people have gone on retreat or for days of reflection.

Faith development

During this time Fr Martin established a team of youth workers whose priority was faith development. The Faith Development Team grew in size and supported many parish and diocesan initiatives, responding to many requests to train and develop youth ministry throughout the diocese.

As I stood at his removal last Friday evening, I was struck by the memories and conversations I have had with many young people down the years, who recalled times when Fr Martin helped, supported or provided some advice. During his tenure, anything happening with young people in a Church context, Martin Clarke was most likely present.

He managed and nurtured one of the premier youth and Catholic organisations in the country.

He was a youth minister at heart. His vision and stewardship of youth ministry ensured that a generation of young people had an experience of the Church being young at heart.

Gerard Gallagher worked with Fr Martin Clarke in CYC on the Faith Development Team and also authored the history of youth ministry in Ireland ñ Are we Losing the Young Church? He works in the Office of Evangelisation for the Dublin Archdiocese.