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Desmond Forristal

Priest with love of the arts was deeply spiritual, writes Stephen Hanlon

Fr Desmond Forristal, who died last week at the age of 81, was the former parish priest of Dalkey, Co Dublin, before his retirement in 2001.

He was most famous for being associated with the Gate Theatre, and had a number of plays chosen for the Dublin Theatre Festival.

Born in Dublin in 1930, he was the son of Anthony Forristal and his wife Maureen. He was educated by the Christian Brothers at O'Connell Schools and by the Jesuits at Belvedere College. While at Belvedere, he received the George Dempsey memorial prize in 1948 for an essay he had submitted. He later moved on to study philosophy in UCD and theology at Holy Cross. He earned his PhD in 1956, a year after he entered the priesthood.

Fr Forristal became the curate of Halston Street church in Smithfield, Co Dublin, in 1959 before he and a fellow priest, Fr John Dunne, were sent to New York by Archbishop John Charles McQuaid with a mission to learn television and broadcasting techniques ahead of the arrival of Teilifis Eireann.

Upon his return to Ireland, he and Fr Dunne began working on the documentary series Radharc which was first broadcast in January 1962. The series took an entirely new approach to religious programming and covered issues all around Ireland. It also reported from around the world until 1997.

As a former member of the Dublin Diocesan Council of Priests, Fr Forristal was heavily involved in organising the visit of Pope John Paul II to Ireland in 1979. He was also very charitable as he showed when he donated IR£5,000 in royalties for his play Kolbe, which was performed at the Abbey, to the Irish Polish Society relief fund in Poland. Other writings included The True Story of the Horrid Popish Plot (1972), Black Man's Country (1974), which dealt with the Biafran civil war, and Captive Audience (1979).

His main passion was music and he revealed that his favourite musical piece was the Pilgrim's Chorus from Wagner's Tannhauser. He also enjoyed playing the game Scrabble, which he was said to be almost unbeatable at. He was also fluent in a number of languages.

Fr Forristal served as a curate in both Bray and Glasnevin before being appointed to his position in Dalkey. He was a parish priest with a great sense of spirituality.

His burial took place last Thursday at Glasnevin cemetery.

Paying tribute to Fr Forristal, Fr Dermod McCarthy, editor of religious programming for RTE until 2009, said that the "priesthood can be exercised in many ways, most commonly as pastors, caring for their parish communities. Others are scholars, teachers, writers and musicians; Des combined every one of these forms of ministry in his 45 years of active life as a priest."

He is survived by his brother Ciaran, sister-in-law Flicka and nephew Timothy.

Sunday Independent