The Hermit Priest

Book Review by Greg Byrnes

Noone, Val. FROM ROSCREA TO BEAGLE BAY; Dan Donovan, priest and hermit. Mary Doyle and Val Noone, 2020. 40 pp.

ISBN: 0646814753, 9780646814759

RRP: $10 + $5 post/packing from

The first, and lasting impression made by this booklet is that of Beauty. It sits comfortably in the hand, its paper (100 % post-consumer waste and FSC certified) is glossy and it is abundantly illustrated with 34 photographs, 30 in colour, and one b/w map.

It is also humble, modest and down to earth. It tells its story perfectly well within its chosen limits but two pages of references lead the curious to follow up Father Daniel O’Donovan’s own books (which include original poetry) and articles.

The author, a long-standing friend of Dan’s, uses a pleasantly conversational style which invites readers to share his exploration of this Irish monk’s life of prayer, travel and dialogue.

His father’s being a diplomat meant that Dan ‘moved a good deal in crisis-ridden Europe’ as a child. After further schooling in Ireland, including Leaving Certificate Irish, he entered the Cistercian monastery at Roscrea then, via study in Rome, arrived at Tarrawarra monastery, Victoria in 1962.

Over half of the text follows Dan’s 47 years in north-western Australia in various roles but mostly as a hermit. His openness to indigenous traditions is documented throughout and summarised in Chapter Four, ‘Christian-Aboriginal Dialogue’. If one aspect were to be singled out, it might be ‘dadirri’, similar to contemplation, for which Dan acknowledges elder Miriam-Rose Ungunmer-Baumann.

Dan also spent the years 1996-97 visiting ashrams and monasteries in what he calls ‘the holy country India’.

While influences ranging from Charles de Foucauld of Algeria back to Evagrius, one of the Desert Fathers, seem to have been more important in Dan’s development than specifically Irish ones, the author quite appropriately mentions Enda of Aran, Ita of Limerick and Kevin of Glendalough in his conclusion, suggesting further reflection on this story in the light of Celtic traditions. After all, two thousand years ago, Ireland was an oral society that entered into dialogue with literate Christianity.

In our current period of unaccustomed hermit-like isolation and stability, this beautiful booklet makes perfect bedside reading.

Greg Byrnes is a teacher of English to international students in Sydney NSW. In Irish Studies, his research has focused on Gaelic language and literature, some of which has been published in Ireland and Australia.