Reader reviews

Irish Examiner review:

The disarming title of Murphy’s story of the life of a self exiled Irish priest in the latter decades of the 1800s and the first of the 1900s evokes an irresistible tale of another antipodean adventure. In that one, Captain Lawrence Oates in uttering the memorable “I’m just going outside and may be some time” sacrificed himself to save others on the Robert Falcon Scott Antarctic expedition of 1912.

Murphy’s tale of his granduncle Michael Kickham of Mullinahone, Co. Tipperary, has a similar act of self-sacrifice though one that didn’t lead to his death directly. However if Kickham’s devotion to the Church and his self-imposed exile later in Argentina can be interpreted as a sacrifice, then this man did make the Ultimate sacrifice.

Murphy does a great service to shedding light on Irish emigration to the Antipodes, Argentina and the many nuanced religious and political facets of these huge social events. And we are in his debt for these achievements.

What is this book? A memoir, the bones of a magic realist novel, a social commentary. It is none of these things and all of them. Hopefully there is more to come from this intriguing writer.

Peter Nash comments:

Vincent Murphy’s book is a triumph of thorough research, a compelling human story, a vibrant picture of life on three continents and a disturbing account of the impact of clerical politics on a good man and his family. Murphy has created an intelligent and sympathetic account of the life of Michael Kickham who grew up in Ireland, preached in New Zealand and died in South America. His life was defined by his family connection to the Irish patriot Charles Kickham and his priestly disputes with his bishop in New Zealand.

Using a skilful blend of sources and intuition, Murphy brings Kickham to life as a principled young man who devotes his life to God, falls foul of clerical politics in a faraway land and becomes isolated from family and friends. Kickham struggles with the fallout from the long-running dispute with an unreasonable bishop and Murphy’s account of his mental challenges lets us understand why he may have chosen to re-invent himself in Argentina. Unfortunately the price of this re-invention is estrangement from his family in Ireland.

The story spans three continents, as did Murphy’s research which is thorough and well-documented. The author’s notes on the research and the writing of the book are themselves very interesting, and the narrative construction and style is all the more credible when you realise that Murphy is a member of the Kickham clan.

Entertaining, educational and insightful, Goodbye Kit is a great read.

From Julian

[Authors note: Julian is Spanish. He was ordained a Jesuit in the US after his studies there. He subsequently left the priesthood and married. As someone who had left the priesthood, his perspective on Michael Kickham has a particular resonance.]

With great pleasure I’ve finished reading your “Goodbye Kit”. Excellent, very enjoyable.  Your English, more classic than that of the USA, appealed a lot to me.

Michael is now a good friend of mine, very close. If we had known each other, if we had lived in the same place at the same time, we would have been very good companions and we would have supported one another.

The book reminded me of how happy I was when I went home for the holidays, leaving the seminary for a while, just like Michael leaving Mount Melleray and enjoying the family, the Happy Days of Summer. I also took a big trunk to the seminary.

 It seems clear that he had the charisma to relate to and live with the people; and that they in turn always accepted him with enthusiasm. I felt happy seeing the enthusiasm with which he received the well deserved homage of his congregation or in the newspapers. How happy he was when they said their goodbyes to him in Napier after two years as a curate!

What remains with me is the image of a priest who is irreproachable, religious, close to the people, sought after, appreciated, who always did the right thing throughout his life. He was sincere to himself and to the people.

There are many coincidences in the journeys of Michael and Julian. For Michael, as for Julian, in Catholic Ireland or Spain, having a son a priest was a great honour. I remember when my parents came to New York for my ordination, how happy they felt. Or when a mass was celebrated in my village for my ordination when they returned.

For Michael, there was a dark cloud which undermined his health and caused great sadness in his life. “Leaving the priesthood wasn’t that simple. It signified a great shame for me and my family”. For Julian, it was never a personal shame, but I felt terribly sad seeing my family. My parents suffered incredibly. What must the families of my hometown have thought!

It is not easy to understand why Michael left the priesthood: he loved his religion and loved his pastoral work as a priest, but in liberating himself from the weight of the priesthood, he discovered himself. And the future? Uncertain, as naked as when he was born, without money, without a profession, without friends, without family with whom to share the loneliness! But I feel that: “I need to go someplace far away…,  I started to panic”. A feeling of great loneliness.

I believe he was relatively happy in Buenos Aires until his secret was discovered. That messed up everything  and it was as much a cause of his death as was his diseased liver.

So thank you Vincent, I’ve had a great time reading about the complicated and Wonderful Life of Michael. To serve the people, he left his beloved Emerald Isle for much of that life. Well Michael:

“​And ​the man who was never in Mullinahone shouldn’t say he had travelled at all”

From Una Leader:

Goodbye Kit, Vincent Murphy’s imagined retelling of his grand uncle’s story is the product of meticulous research and a dedicated quest to unearth details of his ancestor Michael Kickham, whose life journey took him from Co. Tipperary to Buneos Aires via New Zealand and Australia in the latter part of the 19th century.

The joy of this book is the extraordinary treasure trove of letters and contemporaneous newspaper articles through which the voice of a young man, dead for over a century, shines through. Described in his lifetime as ‘eloquent and impressive’ Michael Kickham’s letters have an immediacy that bring history to life. Fenians, the Land League and Parnell are topics of the day even far away in New Zealand.

The very worldly challenges of income and prospects within the church are highlighted. The gradual disillusionment of ‘the good priest and staunch patriot’, disputes with Bishops, petitions to the Vatican, are all charted. From the beginning in Mullinahone right to the end in South America Vincent Murphy has relentlessly pursued his quest to piece together the story of the man behind the letters. A most interesting read. 

‘I was of course all alone, mountains before, mountains behind, sometimes near the sea so that I could hear it beating on the rocks beneath’ [from a letter from Michael to his parents]

The Nationalist, January 27, 2022

A book written by a Clonmel man now living in Cork has been a labour of love for the past few years, and is the result of painstaking research carried out into the life and times of an Irishman who spent much of his life in the Southern Hemisphere.

A row with his bishop over his nationalist views, as proclaimed in a St Patrick’s Day speech in 1888, resulted in him moving to Australia. After a brief and unsuccessful spell with the Jesuits in Melbourne, he refused to comply with his commitment to return to New Zealand. He eventually received permission to remain in Australia.

From Deirdre Fitzgibbon

I found the book an enjoyable and interesting read. From Fr. Michael’s letters it was easy to imagine what life was like living in remote areas in New Zealand and Australia.

His letters give a vivid account of the difficulties he encountered emotionally and physically in carrying out his pastoral duties. The blatant discrimination against secular priests and the unwillingness of the hierarchy to address or acknowledge their concerns gave rise to discontent and anger.

The obvious political and patriotic views of Fr. Michael and other Irish priests for an independent Ireland leapt off the pages.

Although Michael was well thought of and respected within and outside his pastoral care, his own discontent and personal struggles brew beneath the surface.

An enjoyable read, a mystery story that kept me rooting for Michael and engaged to the final page.