Fr John O’Brien – the formerly Athlone-based friar is currently based in Multyfarnham.

Poetry of TS Eliot inspires Fr John’s latest book

Last year, during the first lockdown, Fr John O’Brien sat down to write his latest book which is inspired by the poetry of TS Eliot and begins with an exploration of his epic poem, The Waste Land.

“He wrote The Waste Land at a very bleak time in his life, and it tapped into the feelings of people after the First World War,” said Fr John.

“But, in writing The Waste Land, he got all these feelings out. He said, after he wrote it, that he had left ‘the waste land’ behind. It was therapeutic.”

Fr John said there were parallels between the subject matter of The Waste Land and the sense of unease and uncertainty that was prevalent during the initial stages of the pandemic.

“The Waste Land caught the feeling of that time, with the first major lockdown and all of the fear that was around. But despite the fear, there were a lot of people who volunteered to help, which reaffirmed my faith in humanity,” he said.

The result of his reflections on the poet’s work is ‘The Darkness Shall Be the Light: TS Eliot’s Journey to Faith’, a 240-page book, which has just been published.

Fr John is well-known locally, having spent many years at the Franciscan Friary in Athlone. He is currently based at the Franciscan Abbey in Multyfarnham.

Over the years he has written more than a dozen books, many of which are profound meditations on faith, human struggle, and healing.

His writing often includes explorations of meaningful works of art, and ‘The Darkness Shall Be the Light’ refers to the creations of artists as diverse as Fyodor Dostoevsky, Andy Warhol and Bruce Springsteen.

Most of the reflections in the book, however, were prompted by Eliot, the American-born winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature whose work is a staple of many English courses at second and third level.

Fr John writes in the book about how Eliot rediscovered his faith after writing The Waste Land, and went on to write ‘Ash Wednesday’ (1930) and the ‘Four Quartets’, the last three of which were written during World War Two.

“The Four Quartets are his exploration of faith, and how to live in faith in the world that he found, especially during the Second World War,” Fr John stated.

In his introduction to the book, he explained that it was designed to be accessible to everyone.

“This is not meant just for believers. It is open to all. I have met so many who seek meaning and a reason to believe. These meditations are dedicated to them, also,” he wrote.

* Fr John's new book is available now on or