Bringing the Far East into sharper focus for the West

Dave O'Connell

A Different View with Dave O’Connell

The Far East is a hundred years old; not that part of the planet obviously, but the eponymous magazine produced by the Columban Fathers for a century.

Indeed, it’s exactly the same age as the missionary order themselves, because right from the start they wanted to send stories home on the work they were doing in far-off missionary fields.

It’s inconceivable now that little more than a generation ago, you’d be considered exotic in Ireland if you came from England; now you just have to walk past any school playground to see what a melting pot we’ve become.

And it’s wonderful that teachers no longer have to go to text books to offer an insight into life in far-off lands – they just have to throw the floor open to their own students.

But back when our worlds were smaller places, a little peek into the wider world came into our hands every month, courtesy of the self-same Far East.

As children, of course, the work of our priests in Africa or China was of little consequence.

But the adventures of Pudsy Ryan and his pidgin English gave us a laugh – and, possibly subliminally in my case, the belief that you didn’t have to have a great command of the language to write your own column after all.

The Mammies and Daddies paid a subscription to buy The Far East through the schools, but in all honesty, it was more of a way to support the work of the missionaries rather than from any great desire for knowledge of foreign lands.

And yet, like every other publication, the centenary of the Far East tells its own story now.

From hand-drawn covers of Celtic crosses and pagodas marking the Columbans’ early work in China to celebratory editions marking the release of Fr Niall O’Brien from captivity in the Philippines; campaigns for children’s rights and the debate on married priests – it’s a long, long way from the ramblings of Pudsy Ryan.

For more read this week’s Connacht Tribune.