Following on from last week’s first in a two-part exclusive interview with Father Brian D’Arcy – who is joining The Impartial Reporter as one of our new columnists – the highly-respected priest, broadcaster and journalist continues this week as he reflects on everything from the challenges facing communities of faith today, to his thoughts on local GAA teams – and even if he’ll dig a pink shirt out to see ‘Barbie’ at the cinema.

Looked out a window at the Graan, Fr. Brian contemplated the changes he’s seen since he first entered the building as a monk a lifetime ago, almost a full 60 years ago on September 29, 1963.

“You have to ask yourself a lot of questions. I joined that house over there knowing that place wouldn’t last as a monastery, and we couldn’t keep it, and then 31 years ago we built this house,” he said, gesturing at the now Graan Abbey Care Home.

Laughing, he continued: “You think you’ve said and seen everything, and something happens that you’ve never seen before.”

Referencing the Graan renovation, he said: “At that stage, I was able to see where things were going, but now, I don’t know where things are going.

“I don’t know where they are, politically – I mean, could you ever have imagined, [Boris] Johnson, America, Putin, and Kim [Jong Un], that all those people would be leading the world? You could never have imagined that.”

As news of the latest Covid-19 coronavirus variant – named ‘Eris’ – started spreading around the world in recent weeks, Fr. Brian said: “The Covid [pandemic] took the foundation from everything. This is a different world.

“Who’d have ever thought that on St. Patrick’s Day, 2020, in Ireland, neither a pub nor a church was allowed to open? If you mentioned that two months earlier, people would have said it was impossible.”

Reflecting on how he believed the world has changed due to the devastating global pandemic, he said: “We shouldn’t be trying to restore what was there before Covid.

“It can only be useful if [it’s said the pandemic’s impact] ended an attitude, an era and a way of living. Most of it all, it ended beliefs; there is nothing certain anymore.

“If you’re banned from going to a church, visiting your mother, or having a funeral for your parent, how can the world ever be the same again?”

Shaking his head, he added: “There is no certainty after that.”

Referencing falling church attendance and the impact of the pandemic, Fr. Brian said: “50 per cent of people have not come back; we are not too bad here [at the Graan.]

“It is worse in Dublin, it is worse anywhere across the Border for all churches, but particularly [for] the Catholic Church.”

He noted that even the popular Novena of Hope at the Graan had got smaller, with fewer participants.

“Back in 2017, they were hanging from the rafters; police were turning people around as there was nowhere for them to go,” he said.

Discussing the challenge of church attendance and reconnecting with people who have drifted away from attendance, Fr. Brian said: “You won’t reconnect by going back; you will be listening to what the people need themselves.

“You’ll still get a massive crowd for a funeral, they’ll still be part of it and find it consoling because they need it.”

Turning the conversation on faith toward mortality, he said: “We have to learn we are old people.

“I am going to die in the next five years, if I live five years. Realistically, I am now eight years longer than my father or my brother lived.”

When asked about his health, Fr. Brian joked: “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans!”

Continuing, he said: “I’m grand – I am taking 21 tablets a day, but it takes 21 tablets to be grand.”

With a twinkle in his eye, he added: “I’m 78, and still doing 40,000 miles a year!”

VJ: You’re a massive fan of GAA and other sports. Who will win the Fermanagh Senior Club Championship?

BD: It depends on who has the least injuries, as all our panels are small. I think Derrygonnelly and the Gaels will be the main two, and Ederney and Belnaleck will be in it too, and Erne Gaels.

Other clubs might say, ‘He hasn’t mentioned us’, but that means it’s their thing to win. I hope the team that trains the best and plays the best wins it.

(Later, Fr. Brian added: “Kinawley can be in there too.”)

What is your social media platform of choice? Are you still on Twitter, do you TikTok?

I’m not on Twitter – I’m on ‘X’! I read Facebook but don’t go on it, and I’d be afraid of it.

On Twitter, someone set up a false Brian D’Arcy account, and people came to me about it, and it had to be taken down. They [such platforms] are all very dangerous.

I don't think social media is going to last, but the principles that social media has shown will. It also shows us what can be done.

Which did you see first at the cinema – ‘Barbie’, or ‘Oppenheimer’?

I’ve been to Oppenheimer, and I preached about it last Sunday, which was the Feast of the Transfiguration, August 6; it's also the anniversary of Hiroshima, when it was transfigured by evil.

I spoke about Oppenheimer [at Mass]. I was fascinated about it. It’s three hours long; it's heavy.

But it's a fascinating film. It really does ask a lot of questions – makes you think about who has power.

Oppenheimer led a team of inventors, but he lost control over it as soon as soon as it was done, because politicians took it over.

His greatest invention [the atomic bomb], he might have thought it was for use as a preventive in war – but as soon as politicians got the chance, they used it.

I’m sure the same insight could have been used to provide power, authority, batteries – all of that spinning of the atom, hydrogen [power and] so forth, could have been used for good, and good might be the answer to our green earth.

So I think Oppenheimer is a must-see, for the acting is top-class in it, but the issues are well raised, [as well as the film showing] how even a genius is dismissed as soon as his genius works.

And Barbie?

I'll try and get to see it; I have to see Barbie. I’ll get my pink shirt eventually for it!

What about Artificial Intelligence (AI)? Are you worried about it; is it writing your sermons for you?

It is not writing my sermons for me! As far as I was concerned, when I first heard of AI, it was artificial insemination! ‘AI’ will remain artificial insemination for me.

But AI seems to be so far ahead of even those who invented it. I think it could have ended up like an Oppenheimer.

How do you relax?

Listening to music, going to concerts, going to dances, going to football matches.

Going to training with the Fermanagh lads, following all sorts of sport. That's my biggest thing. If I get to a match that week, I don't need a day off.

When did you last have a day off?

I can't remember when I had a day off.

Many people seek Fr. Brian’s advice. When asked by this newspaper for some parting advice, Fr. Brian said: “Look at your life, look at what gives you fulfilment, look at what you think your gifts are, and use them to the best of your ability, have visions but make your dreams realistic.

“Don’t set up a dream that makes you a failure before you start. Bit by bit your dreams, your vision, your achievements will grow.

“They’ll grow as you grow, and will be different from what you think you are.

“I’ve always maintained that if you can keep and recognise in yourself that there is a goodness within yourself, work on the goodness and that will take care of the bad.

“Mind you, it doesn’t take a genius to say that. Jesus said that long ago when weeds were with the wheat, and they said, ‘Will we pull the weeds?’, he said, ‘No, no, let them grow. The wheat will outgrow them eventually’,” added Fr. Brian.