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Catholic priest's daughter Déarbhla shares incredible story of love and pride

'There's no scandal - there's no big deal'

By Claire Williamson

Published 01/12/2016

Fr McAnerney passed away last month in hospital.
Fr McAnerney passed away last month in hospital.

A woman whose father was a priest has spoken for the first time about their relationship and how growing up she said she 'didn't know any different'.

Father Arty McAnerney admitted he had a daughter in November 1998 standing on the altar at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Beragh Co Tyrone.

He told how he had a daughter following a relationship with a women when he worked as a curate in Drogeheda.

His parishioners greeted the statement with applause and for the next two decades he continued his work.

Fr McAnerney, who served in parishes across Armagh, passed away last month in hospital.

Speaking for the first time to the Irish News his daughter Déarbhla Clark said: "I've always been proud of my dad and he's always been proud of me.

"I've never had a problem with any of this stuff.

"Sure my dad was great - he was the only one who stood on the altar and said Mass. My dad was absolutely brilliant, nobody else's dad did that."

Growing up, Déarbhla said she always knew her father was a priest.

"I remember there was a girl on the school bus, I think I was about six to eight, and we had this fight because she could not comprehend that my dad was a Catholic priest," she said.

"I was adamant about it, I was like 'He is, he is, he says Mass and everything'. You know the way kids go on and she was like 'No, no, no'.

"It was only in later years that I started realising that it wasn't the social norm and that's when the problems started where things would have been kept quiet."

When it emerged in the news that Fr McAnerney had a child - Déarbhla said she did not know the details of what was going on.

"When the last media coverage happened, I think I was 15 or 16 and it was requested by my mother's solicitor that my dad stopped seeing me, which he did out of respect."

But she wanted to keep contact with her father and reconnected with him after she found his telephone number.

Fr McAnerney was also a "doting" grandfather and would often bring out photographs of his family from his wallet and they would all often go on holidays.

When her father passed away last month Déarbhla said she was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support she received as she addressed the congregation.

"I'm delighted some people did pick up on the words I said in the Mass that Dad would not want us to be sad, he'd be raging if he knew that we were making a fuss of him.

"I said to his congregation bring the laughter, bring the colour, and there were some reds, there were some oranges, some yellows, some pinks and it was absolutely brilliant to see that it wasn't just black."

She said she believes her experience is an example of why priests should be allowed to have children - and Déarbhla believes there may be others out there in a similar situation.

"He had what a lot of priests wouldn't be able to have, he had his God that he loved and respected and did all his work but then he also had the love of a child and a lot of priests cannot say that.

"Quite honestly I think the rules in the Church at the moment are extremely archaic - you cannot expect a man to spend 60/70 years on their own, total celibacy, it is extremely cruel."

"I'm sure there a few others out there - I'm really not the only one and it's not a big deal.

"Everybody deserves a mother and father, everybody deserves the love of both parents.

"If there are any others out there, I have absolutely no problem in talking to them and seeing what their story is. I've been there, done that - I have a lot of experience behind me between volunteer work and suicide hotlines and stuff like that, I know how to talk to people.

"There's no scandal, there's no big deal."

Déarbhla said that she has "broken nearly every rule in the book" when it comes to social norms.

"I should be a bitter, horrible, twisted person, but I'm not - I follow him. I can sit and I can smile and when my world shatters around me, I can find the positive and the positive was everyone he was involved with."

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