Fr Owen O’Kane Recalled at Dalgan Presentation

May 23, 2024

At a recent event in Dalgan recalling the life and ministry of Columban Fr Owen O’Kane, his niece Kathy O’Kane Delargy recalled how the people of Ballymun described him as having “nothing, he gave it all away”.

She was reflecting on the life of the frugal missionary for a presentation on some of his memorabilia in a talk titled, ‘Carnlough to the Falls Road via China, Argentina, Peru and Ballymun.’

Kathy’s presentation was originally delivered last year on the Falls Road to mark the 70th anniversary of Fr Owen’s release from prison in China in 1953.

Kathy O’Kane Delargy, niece of Fr Owen O’Kane ssc

Fr Donie Hogan was MC for the afternoon as a number of people looked back on Fr Owen’s missionary journey, notably his arrest and imprisonment in China.

Fr Donie paid tribute to Columban archivist Barbara Scally who while searching for material on Fr Owen discovered the 53-page account of his time in prison written shortly after he was released. “It was a real revelation to everybody – it was so personal.”

Fr Pat Colgan read an extract from Fr Owen’s own account of his arrest and subsequent imprisonment in China which was recently discovered in the Columban archives. Read it here:THE ARREST

See Fr Pat Colgan reading the extract from Fr Owen’s account here:


Fr Owen O’Kane was ordained in Dalgan in December 1944. Due to World War II, he wasn’t able to go to China until 1946.

He was imprisoned in Huzhou by the Communist authorities for subversive activity. Following time in prison he was expelled in November 1953.

Last June in his homily for Cemetery Sunday, Fr Donie Hogan told the relatives of deceased Columbans gathered in Dalgan’s cemetery that in an interview in the Far East in 1996, Fr Owen told of his ordeal in solitary confinement under extremely harsh conditions for a year and a half in 1951-52. When he was deported to Hong Kong, he weighed less than 7 stone.

“Three other Columbans, Paddy Reilly, Jack Casey and Paddy Ronan were deported with him, and all had undergone similar sufferings in solitary confinement. Owen, in the interview, also shared the following: ‘I am convinced God was there in the cell, palpably present, when I needed him.’”

In that interview, Fr Owen added: “Then there were the prayers that were offered for us. We knew or presumed, that people were praying for us. What we did not know until we came home was that every child in the country was praying for us in response to requests made through the Far East and through parents and teachers.  And who will ever know the extent to which those prayers moved God to bring us safely through it all? For them we are still grateful.”

Speaking to, Fr Donie commented, “He knew people were praying for him. But it was only when he came out he heard that through the Far East, parishes and other channels he learned that the children of Ireland were praying for him. I presume that is what carried him.”

Following his expulsion from China, Fr Owen spent a period of time recuperating n in Ireland before he went to Argentina in 1955 and worked in the Seaman’s Mission in Buenos Aires. From 1960, he ministered in Peru, part of which was spent as Superior of the Columbans in Latin America.

Returning to Ireland in 1974 he became parish priest of the then Columban parish at St Joseph’s, Balcurris Road, Ballymun, Dublin. He began the task of developing the parish from its infancy.

In 1984 he returned to Belfast and worked with boundless energy in the Belfast parish of St Paul’s. He died on 1st April 2000 and asked to be buried in his native Carnlough as “my burial there could prompt someone to think of priesthood as a way of life for him.”

In his introduction to the event, Fr Donie Hogan recalled how Fr Owen came to the Nursing Home Dalgan in March 2000. He introduced Fr Mike O’Loughlin to the gathering as “the last Columban to be with Owen O’Kane when he died.”

“Owen was brought from Falls Road by a family member to the Nursing Home. What impressed the family member was that there were five Columbans waiting at the entrance to the Nursing Home for Owen and one of the Columbans said, ‘Welcome home Owen’.”

“As he was dying, Mike O’Loughlin, who was home from the States at the time, was called in by the nurse. Mike recalled how he went in and read a few psalms from the breviary and began the Rosary. By the second decade he noticed Owen had stopped breathing. This recollection was nice for Kathy to know.”

Kathy recalled Fr Owen’s love for black tea or coffee, a cigarette, gardening, sheepdogs and his big black bicycle. He won many sheepdog trials in the Glens. He liked to feel the soil beneath his feet, to turn the sod and to witness new life that would feed and nourish the body and the mind in the process.

She spoke about Fr Owen’s gold pocket watch which had been presented to him at his ordination and inscribed. When he was imprisoned in China the authorities took the watch. On his release and expulsion he refused to leave until the watch was returned to him. It was.

Another noteworthy object was Fr Owen’s big black bicycle, which went everywhere with him, from the Falls Road to Ballymun to Lima and which he used it to visit parishioners.

Read Kathy’s full text here:Kathy’s Presentation in Dalgan

Four representatives from Ballymun attended the presentation on Fr Owen. Dolores, Kay, Rose and Lilian paid warm tributes to him and recalled his presence in their parish fondly.

At the conclusion of the event, Kathy O’Kane Delargy presented to the regional director, Fr Ray Husband with a cheque for €1,200 towards the work of the Columban Missionaries. The event finished with the singing of: ‘The Green Glens of Antrim’.

Speaking to, Fr Donie described Fr Owen as “a man of deep faith, courage and determination. He was definitely a man of prayer, who was rooted in the earth in so many ways”.

He added, he was committed and loved the ordinary people. He was so personable. The people of Ballymun really appreciated him and looked up to him, as Dolores said, physically – he was 6’5”. He was special – a giant really and a hero in Ballymun – he was the one who got things off the ground.”

He added, “It was Owen who brought me into the Columbans, and I followed him to Ballymun.”

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