Remembering Fr Niall O’Brien


Remembering Fr Niall O’Brien, Columban missionary, priest, peacemaker, prisoner, writer and friend by Fr Michael Martin.

Columban missionary Fr Niall O’Brien was born on 2 August 1939 in Dublin, Ireland. He was ordained in December 1963.

While serving on mission in the Philippines under the Marcos regime in the 1980s he was falsely accused of and detained on charges of multiple murder along with two other priests, Columban Fr Brian Gore, an Australian, and Fr Vicente Dangan, a Filipino, as well as six lay workers: the so-called ‘Negros Nine’.

They were falsely accused of the murders of Mayor Pablo Sola of Kabankalan and four companions.

The case received widespread publicity in Ireland and Australia. Charlie Bird interviewed Fr O’Brien in his overcrowded prison cell on RTÉ Television.

When US President Ronald Reagan visited Ireland in 1984, he was asked on Irish Television how he could help the missionary priest’s situation. A phone call the next day from the Reagan administration to Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines resulted in Marcos offering a pardon to Fr O’Brien and his co-accused.

Rather than accept a pardon, which would imply guilt, the priests had the charges dropped against them in return for agreeing to leave the country. They were released on 3 July 1984.

In 1986, the Marcos regime fell in the People Power revolution and Fr O’Brien returned to the country he considered home shortly afterwards.

Fr Niall O’Brien died in Pisa, Italy on 28 April 2004, aged 64.

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