Page last updated at 05:59 GMT, Monday, 21 April 2008 06:59 UK

Secret life of Ireland's singing priest

Father Michael Cleary

By Fiona Murray
BBC News

It was a story which shocked Ireland and created a national scandal - the revelation that one of the country's most popular priests had a live in lover and two children.

Dublin-born Father Michael Cleary was well-known for his devout Catholic views on sex, divorce and abortion.

He also published a book about maintaining faith in the modern world and was dubbed the Singing Priest after releasing two albums of songs.

However, after his death it emerged that this man, who was a powerful player in the Catholic Church, had lived a contradictory, secret life, where his housekeeper, Phyllis Hamilton, was his lover and mother of his children.

His story is now the subject of a film to be shown on BBC Northern Ireland, The Holy Show.


Alison Millar
Alison Millar said the film was a paradox of his life and death

Its producer and director, Alison Millar captured the footage at his Rathmines home during her student days in 1991, not realising that one day it would amount to a video diary of a secret family.

Using original footage, and with exclusive access to friends and family, including frank interviews with the priest's son, Ross Hamilton, the film examines the debris left behind after Father Cleary's death.

Ms Millar said: "This film is a paradox of the life and death of Father Michael Cleary, who at one time was the most powerful and charismatic figure in Catholic Ireland.

"A man who was hand picked by the Church to host the Papal visit of Pope John Paul II.

"Using my own unique and unseen archive and exclusive access to his children and close family this film will explore and shed light on a complex performer. 

"A man whose love of celebrity in the end overrode his ability to tell the truth. A man who, in death, left his congregation in turmoil and his family in pieces. "

Michael Cleary
Michael Cleary enjoyed a secret life with a lover and children

The film begins with Alison's quest to find out what really happened when she was filming in the priest's house and why she was allowed to stay there when he was living a secret life.

She also tries to track down the housekeeper, and her son, Ross, now 31. It is gradually revealed that Phyllis Hamilton died five years after the priest's death in 1993.

The story will also claim that the despite DNA testing, the Cleary family to the present day, still refuse to accept who Ross is.

"Together Ross and I will try to understand what was going on in his father's mind and why he chose to keep Ross and his mother a secret - even in death.

  "The Holy Show is not only an intimate examination of the human debris that the two sides of Cleary left behind but it also represents a progression of the old into the new Catholic Ireland.

"It is a moving and shocking portrait of a man trapped by the vows of celibacy as well as his own ego."


A preview of 'The Holy Show'

The Holy Show is on Monday, 21 April on BBC One at 2100 BST.


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