By John Fitzgerald
In January 2019, north Kilkenny said goodbye to a very special man: The great Larry Cummins, whose mission in life had been to bring healing to his fellow human beings and urge a return to prayer. He sought to spread the message far and wide that there really is a God out there and that we need to welcome him back into our lives.
Larry’s passing received no major headlines, for he was no superstar, political celebrity, or publicity seeker. But his life kindled a bright light that for the countless people he helped through his ministry will never stop shining.
Larry was born in New York in 1930, the eldest of eleven children. His parents, John and Ellen, had married in the Big Apple and, three years after Larry’s birth they moved back to Ireland. They settled in Ballinakill, County Laois where Larry attended the local school.
In 1940, the family moved again, this time to Ballyragget in north County Kilkenny. Like so many children in those days, Larry left school early. At just 13 he hung up his satchel, but that wasn’t the end of his education. He had developed a voracious love of reading and a passion for delving into every subject…ranging from all the sciences, English literature, agriculture, and art appreciation, to local history and antiquities.
That was in between working long hours at the family farmstead at Castledermot and helping out on his cousin’s farm at Durrow. Larry was a fervent hurling fan, seldom missing an All-Ireland final or semi-final or any match played within travelling distance of his home.
The fortunes of the St Patrick’s, Ballyragget club he followed with forensic alacrity. He loved music and was an enthusiastic member of the Durrow Pipe Band, his specialty being the big drum. He sang with the Ballyouskill Church Choir. The Carnival in Durrow wouldn’t have been the same without Larry’s hectic contribution as a committee member. He rubbed shoulders with all the best known singers of the showband circuit, such as Big Tom and Joe Dolan.
In 1962, he married Kathleen Kennedy, who he’d met on an IFA trip four years earlier. They had two sons, Noel and Eilish. Larry took over the farm from his father and the forward-looking couple worked hard to make a success of their poultry and dairy enterprises until Larry retired in 1995.
His intellectual competency came to the fore in his compiling, with historian Dermot Dorgan, of The Chapel District of Ballyouskill and Attanagh, an impeccably researched publication on aspects of local heritage.
Nothing unusual about any of these honourable milestones in Larry’s life: Nor anything in his formative years to even hint at the great transformation to come.
It was in 1986 that Larry’s life took an unexpected and tumultuous turn. Up to this point he had not given much thought to prayer or to the tenets of the religious tradition in which he was raised. In fact, as he reflected later, he’d have called himself the ultimate “lapsed Catholic.”
So it was with a shrug of “no problem” that he responded to his cousin Liam, who had taken ill, when he asked Larry to drive him to a special Mass in Waterford. What, Larry wondered, could be so special about it?
But it proved to be literally life-changing for Larry. It was a healing Mass celebrated by Monsignor Michael Buckley of Cork. When the priest began to consecrate the bread and wine Larry had a spiritual awakening: Jesus appeared to him in all his glory, and anointed him with a divine radiance.
“It suffused my entire being”, he recalled, “and within a matter of seconds I understood a supreme truth. Gone was any trace of unbelief. I knew instantly that life had a purpose, that God is all-loving and present in our lives…”
Larry had further supernatural experience in the days and weeks that followed. He began to hear an inner voice that offered guidance on the new spiritual path he was to take. At every Mass he attended, he could see beyond the range of the normal five senses.
He saw and felt a divine presence in the church, and sensed the whole building filling with a benevolent force that he believed was the Holy Spirit, especially during the sacraments. At communion, confirmation, baptisms and weddings Heaven seemed to bestow its munificent blessing on all present. Whenever holy water was sprinkled, he perceived a divine luminosity and the ciborium that contains the Eucharist exuded rays of shimmering golden light.
On a visit to Medjugorje in 1988 he believed that the Blessed Virgin, the Mother of God who is central to the Catholic faith, revealed herself to him. Larry heard her asking him to use his God-given gift to help departed souls on their ultimate journey to Heaven. Prayer, she promised, would help our loved ones in the afterlife.
Larry wasted no time about acting on this advice “from above.” He soon found himself healing hearts and minds, leading people in prayer, teaching the importance of forgiveness and the need to counteract hatred, greed, and jealousy in the world. He is credited too with many vocations to the priesthood in an era when the Church and its inherent values were under pressure from a cynical media, hostility to the faith, and a rampant materialism.
During subsequent visits to Medjugorje he discovered that his spiritual perceptions were greatly enhanced by whatever supernatural force pervades that renowned place of pilgrimage.
Visitors flocked to Larry’s house in Ballyragget, and the phone never stopped ringing, as people sought out his advice and healing. His wife Kathleen was an unwavering ally in his ministry, answering letters, taking the phone calls and arranging talks with prayer groups all over Ireland. He also found time to visit the Marian Shrine at Knock and his local one at Ladywell in north Kilkenny, as well as immersing himself in community work and supporting charities like the St Vincent de Paul Society and the Pioneer Abstinence Association.
Larry penned a series of short books promoting his beliefs and aptly summed up his message to the world in this internet posting. He stated: “Our modern society, where spirituality and prayer are considered unpopular and antiquated, has become unaware that prayer is the most powerful tool for solving the most horrendous situations. Everybody can be helped, irrespective of their beliefs. Know that the kingdom of Heaven is very powerful… and that nothing is impossible with God…”
When his health began to falter, Larry remained undaunted: his focus was on the world beyond this one. He was determined to see his mission through…to avail of every precious moment of life gifted to him to spread his message of devotion to God and the importance of praying for the dead.
Then, on 4 January, 2019, Larry Cummins, who had done so much to bring people closer to God, took his leave of a world enriched by his life. His mortal remains were taken to the Church of The Assumption in Ballyouskill, led by a lone piper and followed by a line of mourners that seemed to go on forever. He had touched and transformed the lives of so many people. They hadn’t forgotten and they wanted to say thanks.
Larry Cummins is a man Ireland should be proud of. He exemplified all that is good in our culture and demonstrated that we are not alone, whatever the atheist might say, on life’s long, challenging, and occasionally tortuous journey.
Larry is survived by his wife Kathleen, son Noel, daughter Eilish, daughter-in-law Siobhán, son-in-law Neddy Carter and grandchildren Kathlyn, Molly and Jack.