Tribute to Nelius Friel
(1889 - 1976)

Brother Tom Connolly

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Brother Tom Connolly is head of the Allen Library in O'Connell's Schools, Dublin. At the first McGlinchey Summer School he delivered a talk on the placenames of Clonmany which he collected in the 1960's. Nelius Friel provided him with over one hundred place names for Dunaff alone.

About thirty years ago I visited the parish of Clonmany in North West Inishowen for the first time. Being particularly interested in local history and folklore and, in particular, in the place-names of the district, I was directed to the house of an eighty year old resident - Nelius O'Friel of Dunaff as he was known locally.

Thus began for me a friendship that taught me much, not just about our disappearing Gaelic culture, but more so about life itself as seen through the eyes of this true Christian gentleman. He had experienced the cross - his father was drowned in one of the occasional boating tragedies that occur along these coasts. He sang for me the simple nostalgic song he composed himself, recounting the loss that meant so much to him.

His wife died some ten years prior to my meeting him leaving him very much alone in his humble little cottage in Dunaff. Nevertheless he accepted these trials and the weakness of his advancing age in true Christian spirit. He was happy and contented with his lot and indeed counted himself lucky when compared with the plight of others. He had a genuine interest in people and he related humorous stories about those long gone with sympathy and respect. And here words fail me as I try to express the caring interest he took in the lives of those around him - far removed from the thoughtless gossip sometimes associated with small local communities. People loved and respected him for the warm welcome he gave to all who called, the kind word he had for everyone and the quiet concern he expressed for a relation or a neighbour who was ill or in trouble.

Nelius died in 1976 - not alone in his cottage under Dunaff Hill - but in Carndonagh Hosital, surrounded by the caring sisters and his relatives, as he had wished and prayed for during the last few years I had known him. I feel sure that his childlike faith and simple piety had secured for him the reward he so hoped for and which comforted him so much in his later years.

Uneducated in our sense of the word, he had no titles, no exalted role to play in the structure of life, nor will he ever be declared officially a Saint of the Church. Yet for me he exemplified all that is good and commendable in a Christian - not the pious platitudes that all too readily come to our lips - but the example of a life of simple faith, shining out in everything he said and did.




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