Sunday 18 March 2018

€2m estate passes to mum as writer's will declared void

Aoife Finneran and Brian McDonald

THE will of the late poet and acclaimed author John O'Donohue has been declared void because of uncertainty over its meaning.

Mr Justice Paul Gilligan said the poet had "unfortunately provided an illustration of exactly how a person should not make a will".

The decision to declare the will void means that Mr O'Donohue's entire €2m estate passes to his mother, Josie O'Donohue.

The bestselling author of 'Anam Cara', 'Eternal Echoes', 'Divine Beauty' and 'Benedictus: a Book of Blessings' died in January 2008 while on holiday in France. He is survived by his mother Josie, brothers Patrick and Peter, sister Mary, two nieces and two nephews.

His mother, an administrator of the estate, brought High Court proceedings last month to clarify the terms of the one-page will which was made in 2001. An urgent hearing was sought on the grounds that Mrs O'Donohue was terminally ill.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Gilligan concluded he was "unable to decipher the exact meaning" of the will.

He said that while Mr O'Donohue was "a man of considerable learning", the fact he did not benefit from legal advice or assistance was evident from the will. He said the will was deficient due to lack of clarity and said Mr O'Donohue had also unwittingly made "the classic error" of having two intended beneficiaries as witnesses.

Mr O'Donohue's mother Josie and brother Patrick witnessed the will, but this meant they could not benefit from it as a witness to a will cannot be a beneficiary.

The judge said it was with regret that he concluded that the terms of the will rendered it void "for uncertainty".


As a result, the entire estate falls into "intestacy", leading to a situation under law where it passes to his mother.

A native of Co Clare, John O'Donohue studied for the priesthood in Maynooth. He was an outstanding student and great things were predicted for him.

Ordained in 1982, he initially served in a number of parishes before going to Tubingen in Germany where he completed a doctorate on the philosophy of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. He returned to Ireland in 1990 where he began post-doctoral work on the 13th Century Dominican mystic preacher, Meister Eckhart.

His bishop at the time wanted to appoint him to a busy curacy but Mr O'Donohue refused the offer and walked away from the parish.

He immersed himself in his writing and his first book 'Anam Cara' was published in 1997. It became an international bestseller and catapulted him into a more public life as an author and teacher.

His subsequent books added to his international reputation, particularly in the US. He left the priesthood in 2000.

In a later interview he was asked if he regretted becoming a priest, but replied that it was the best decision he had ever made. He based himself in Connemara where he lived with his partner, Kristine Fleck. His final book, 'Benedictus: a Book of Blessings' was published just two months before he died.

President Michael D Higgins was a friend and the poem 'Beannacht' was performed at the presidential inauguration.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News