Thursday, 2 October 2014



(Published in The Irish Times)

Dr Roisin O'Shea

Fr Michael Cleary with Phyllis Hamilton and their son Ross

On Sunday, June 15th, 2014, Fr Arthur O’Neill, parish priest of St Brigid’s Catholic parish, Cabinteely, Dublin, issued a challenge to 40 journalists including Fintan O’Toole to “prove” that Fr Michael Cleary had fathered two children with Phyllis Hamilton, including their son Ross. He issued this challenge by way of the official parish newsletter, thereby giving the impression that he was speaking on behalf of the church.

Arthus O'Neill - "offensive"

Before this public challenge I had never heard of Fr O’Neill. I never heard Michael Cleary speak of him, nor did I meet him or hear of him visiting the home where Michael, Phyllis and Ross lived on Leinster Road in Rathmines for many years.

I sent Ross a message on the day Fr O’Neill’s newsletter was published. I told him I wanted to respond in a short statement, and asked him to read it beforehand. Ross gave me the go-ahead and poignantly responded: “Thanks for standing up for me, it is heartening.”

Ludicrous and offensive

It is astonishing to me that Fr O’Neill has taken it on himself to challenge the parentage of Ross and his older brother, and he did so without contacting Ross, who is entitled after all these years to get on with his life without this kind of attempt to once again seek to deny who his father is. I will not stand quietly by and allow this man to bring more pain to Ross, who has had enough denial rained on him to last more than a lifetime. The challenge is even more ludicrous and offensive when the most cursory comparison between Ross and his father shows the startling likeness between them.

Michael Cleary was the brother of my aunt (who was married to my mother’s brother). The pure force of nature that was Michael would charge into our childhood periodically. He was wildly entertaining, irreverent, loud and opinionated, and through my child’s eyes seemed omnipotent. During my years in art college I thought at one stage I wanted to teach art, but quickly learned I didn’t have the patience for teaching during my first placement in Ballyfermot.

However, I enjoyed again meeting Michael, who lived in Ballyfermot. We had robust arguments about faith, I who had turned away from Catholicism at 16, and he who was the public voice of moral censure.

One day he closed the door of the room to speak to me. He had been diagnosed with throat cancer and was afraid. It was the beginning of many years of friendship, albeit a tempestuous one, with Michael continually urging me to submit to the Catholic code of morality.

His treatment worked, and he went into remission, despite continuing to chain-smoke. In 1985, when both my father and sister died, Michael gave me the gruff support that I needed to pull myself out of inward grieving and look to support my other siblings.

In early 1989 on an impulse I opened a restaurant in Rathmines called Bobbysox. I hadn’t seen Michael for a while and I dropped in to the house and invited him to do the opening for me. He asked if Phyllis – who at that point I knew as his housekeeper – could come.

Phyllis was strikingly not of this world. She seemed fragile, with beautiful pale blue eyes that alternated between piercing probes and disconnected distraction. At the opening, she sat at the restaurant bar counter, her tiny frame balanced on a high stool, childlike in her physique, with her blonde hair swept back from her porcelain white skin. Her presence was more acutely felt than Michael’s huge whirlwind personality. Pat Kenny wanted her to come on the radio to speak about being a housekeeper in modern Ireland, but she declined. It was clear that she was uncomfortable in the crowded room and asked Michael to bring her home early.

The next day Michael rang me and said that Phyllis really liked me and needed a friend. He asked if I would drop in to see her every now and then as he was out so much and he felt she needed company. I called over the next day and that was the beginning of almost five years of daily visits. Phyllis and I would sit in the kitchen, drinking tea, sometimes vodka, and chatting about life. She and her son Ross, who was a vibrant, intelligent and mature 12-year-old, lived with Michael in the house on Leinster Road.

In 1992 the news broke that Eamon Casey had a son, and all hell broke loose in Leinster Road. I can remember many evenings when Michael furiously decried the secrecy of Casey, whom he viewed as a friend. Phyllis was distraught and drank more than usual. During one evening when she was semi-hysterical she told me that Ross was Michael’s son, that they had had another son together who Michael had arranged to be adopted, and she was terrified that the media would learn of their relationship.

Walking likeness

I was pretty sure that Ross was Michael’s son as he was a walking likeness of his father, but I didn’t know about the first child. I waited that evening until Michael came back to the house to speak to him. I worried about how Phyllis was handling the stress, but he was furious that she had told me. I assured them both that it was up to them when they chose to speak about their situation, and I would offer what support I could. I knew at this stage that Phyllis had been under the care of psychiatrist Ivor Browne, and once again he was asked by Michael to assist her.

With the patent stress they all lived under as the Casey scandal kept breaking in waves of disclosure, it was no surprise that Michael’s cancer came back. One evening when I came to the house, Browne was with Phyllis upstairs and Michael was in the kitchen with Fr Brian D’Arcy. Michael was enraged and paced the kitchen. He was convinced that a spotlight would be shone on him, and that it would be discovered that he had children if journalists got anywhere near Phyllis, as she would never deny it.

Darcy - "in kitchen"

He asked me to come to St Vincent’s hospital with him to see the consultant. In the waiting room he was accosted by those waiting for their own appointments. He stepped into his jovial entertainer mode and sent me in to see the consultant alone. Afterwards we sat in his car; he had great difficulty accepting that, not only was the cancer back in his throat, but it had spread.

‘Sounded them out’

I asked him to speak to his family about Ross, which he agreed to do if I went to Archbishop’s House and “sounded them out” on coming clean about his two sons. The purpose of this “sounding out” was that he wanted to be moved somewhere for a while to allow the furore around Casey to die down, but he wanted to choose where he went.

In October 1993, I met the diocesan chancellor, Msgr Alex Stenson, at Archbishop’s House, who agreed to meet in confidence. I told him about Michael, Phyllis and their two sons and their fears of public exposure. His view was that, until Michael told the church directly, they could not offer him, or anyone else who may be involved, any support.

Monsignor Alex Stenson

In December 1993, Michael died. I didn’t see him for the last month of his life as he refused to tell his family that Ross was his son and he was angry that I kept insisting he needed to ensure that Ross had the support of his family when he would no longer be here to take care of him. Michael loved Ross, but I learned after his death that Michael never found the courage to confide in his siblings.
Gone are the days when a senior member of the church in Ireland can make public statements that will go unchallenged. Fr Arthur O’Neill used his position to disseminate a hurtful, confrontational statement whose effect, intended or otherwise, would be once more to deny Ross his father.

I am tired of the culture of mistruths and cover-ups that I grew up with. As a society we need to be open about the wrongs we have inflicted on children, including Ross, who was a child who needed help but instead got the icy chill of outrage for the “sins” of his father.

Ross - "amazing talent"

Ross is an amazing young man, who has struggled over the years with the emotional damage inflicted by the repeated denials, which even a DNA test has failed to quell. He has just starred in his first lead role in a film directed by Fergus Kavanagh. Running to Stand Still , which was shown at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this month, is a coming-of-age story set in Thailand about a young Irish man’s journey of misadventure and self-discovery. Ross himself is coming of age, his star is just starting to shine, and I for one will not allow anyone to derail that.

Dr Róisín O’Shea was a friend of Phyllis Hamilton and Fr Michael Cleary and is a professional mediator


This is an interesting and helpful article from The Irish Times by Dr O'Shea that gives an insider view into Michael Cleary.

What I cannot understand is why, Michael Cleary, living as he was with a lover and a number of children, was, near his death, trying to convince an intelligent lady like Dr O'Shea, that she should embrace irrational, man made Roman Catholic rules and regulations.

Did he not see the contradiction between the life he was living and the doctrines he was preaching and promoting?

He was not living according to Roman Catholic rules but he expected everybody else to!

It was also clearly unloving, unjust and unChristian for him, near death, not to tell his family and his Church that Phylis was his "wife" and that he had children.

What kind of man - not to mention priest - goes to his death - leaving his "loved ones" to the mercy of an unbelieving family and an uncaring, ruthless Church?

It seems to me that his Number One priority was to save Michael Cleary and embarrassment.

How could he face God like that?

Did he not believe? Or did he think that God was a blind Roman Catholic who would "understand"?

Poor Phylis was obviously frail and vulnerable. He left her hanging out to dry!

His son Ross was also left hanging out to dry as he had no one believeing him that Cleary was his father!

Had this man no conscience? Had this man no faith? Had this man no principles? 

Is that what a lifetime of being a Roman Catholic "operative" does to you?

Can you justify anything?

I have seen a lot of things in my 62 years - but I really and truly cannot get my mind around this one!

+Pat Buckley


Tell me how to love someone
who doesn't love me back.

Tell me how to respect someone 
who doesn't deserve my respect.

Tell me how to trust someone 
who betrayed me so badly.

Tell me how to care for someone 
who never cared about me.

Tell me how to speak nicely to someone
who only spoke down to me with bad words.

Tell me how to get along with someone
who brought me nothing but endless tears.

Tell me how to get close to someone 
who caused me so much pain.

Tell me how to forgive someone
who hurt me so severely.

Tell me how to open my heart to someone 
who broke it to pieces too many times.



  1. Pat,

    Unfortunately there are priests everywhere who preach one thing and do another.

    I am in Down and Connor and there are priests here living double lives with men (mainly) and women.

    From what I can see they do not pray and seem to have no faith.

    Its just a handly, cushy job for them that gets them some respect.

    I am struggling to stick with it all. I do not know how long more I can hold out.

    Priest, Down and Connor

    1. You sound like s good man and priest - which is so badly needed in the Church at this time. I hope you can get the strength to continue your ministry so as to encourage people in their faith and to give hope yo so many disillusioned Catholics.

  2. I sympathize with your dilemma, and wish you well in resolving it. You may find it helpful to talk in confidence to a counsellor not in any way connected to your location or the RC church.
    I know the following two scenarios do not embrace all possibilities, but should you respond with some info, you may get some positive helpful comments.

    A) Having taken vows, you aspire to celibacy (even if you have had defaults, or personal misgivings), and wish to continue with your vows obligations, but are much disheartened by the false lives observed in the behaviours of your fellow D&C priests.

    B) You now recognise the empty and unnecessary basis for having been inveigled, as a young inexperienced man, into vows you no longer feel to be a necessary integral essential requirement to pastoral ministry as a christian priest, but is demanded of you by your line management in the RC hierarchy.

  3. Dear Michael (MMM),

    You speak the truth to my fellow D&C priest. I also am very disillusioned. Many clergy in D&C no longer even "attempt" to practice celibacy. Let's at least have an honest conversation in Ireland about this situation, as D&C is certainly not unique in this regard !

    A struggling celibate priest in Down and Connor.

  4. As a Dr O shea should know the difference between hearsay and evidence. Only at the end of her article does she mention DNA evidence. Such evidence would be fairly much incontrovertible. But like WMD in Iraq I have seen claims of evidence but no actual evidence. Who for example did the DNA test? what lab? When and where was it done? What court accepted this DNA evidence and what judgement did they make on it. Either primary evidence of the actual test itself or secondary evidence such as a court ruling or Birth Certificate showin Michael as father and Ross as son would be acceptable. But WHERE is that evidence. Dr O Shea and others have continually claimed to have such evidence but who has ever reproduced this DNA test? Why is there no name of any lab or doctor who did this test in the media. Why is there no court judgment recognising this test? It would be very simple to show the documentation of the test. Where is it? sorry for being a doubting Thomas but extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

    1. Dr. O'Shea has a law degree and PhD in family law. She knows well the difference between hearsay and evidence. The DNA evidence was produced in court to allow Ross to inherit from the estate of his father, Fr. Michael Clery. Ross' solicitor was Peter Lennon. The case was heard in camera in early February of 1999 and heard by Justice John Buckley according to Lennon's statement at the time. Isabel Hurley wrote about it in the Irish Independent You obviously didn't read the article or care about it because it didn't suit your narrative. I know both Dr. O'Shea and Ross and neither feel that Ross should have to produce the DNA test for public consumption to verify his parentage simply because you, and people like you, would like to disbelieve it. Also to liken evidence of Ross' parentage to WMD in Iraq is unfortunate. Also, the suggestion that the claim is extraordinary is ridiculous. A man had a child with a woman. That man didn't want to acknowledge the child for various reasons including his public standing. This is an old story and there's nothing extraordinary about it.