The Geelong Advertiser of Saturday 17th July 1948 carried the following death notice, ‘Malone on July 16th 1948 at Mercy Hospital Melbourne, Very Rev. J.J. Malone, Parish Priest of Ashby (Geelong) in his 83rd year and 60th year of priesthood loving brother of Patrick (deceased), Thomas (deceased), Michael (deceased), Mary (deceased) and John of Rockdale, Sydney. Beloved Uncle of Sr. Gertrude (Sister of Charity Sydney) and of Mrs. Matt Browne (Geelong). Requiescat in Pace.’
Joseph James Malone was a native of Dunbrin, Athy and over many years I had become familiar with his poetry which first appeared in Irish papers and magazines of the latter part of the 19th century including United Ireland, Shamrock and Irish Fireside. His contribution to Irish poetry was noted by David O’Donoghue in the third part of his biographical dictionary of ‘The Poets of Ireland’ which issued in 1893. In Australia Fr. Malone was noted for his literary interests as a poet, essay writer and journalist.
He was born in Dunbrin in 1863 and after attending primary school at Shanganaghmore he became a pupil of the Christian Brothers in Athy. Entering the Catholic seminary he was ordained at Holy Cross College, Clonliffe, Dublin on 29th June 1899. He arrived in Melbourne two days before the following Christmas and served as a curate in a number of parishes before being appointed Parish Priest of Daylesford in 1901.
In 1906 he took a year’s sabbatical leave and left Melbourne in February 1907 in the company of a number of priest friends, visiting Egypt and the Holy Land on his way to Ireland and the United States on the return journey. His travels were recorded in an Australian Catholic magazine and proved so popular that they were published in book form in 1910 under the title ‘The Purple East’. Fr. Malone’s arrival in Athy came soon after the death of his brother Professor Malone who had passed away in Cork on 24th November 1906, aged 41 years. Professor Malone was the father of Eamon Malone, the Irish Republican who for a time was Commander of the Carlow/Kildare I.R.A. Brigade during the War of Independence. While he was Parish Priest of Daylesford Fr. Malone wrote a number of Australian Catholic Truth Society pamphlets.
In 1913 he was appointed Parish Priest of Clifton Hall and remembering the part played by the Irish Christian Brothers in his early education he persuaded the Christian Brothers to open a school in his new parish. In 1914 his first book of poetry ‘Wide Briar and Wattle Bloom’ was published, bringing together a collection of poetry which had appeared in various magazines and publications over the previous 25 years. The book title expressed his dual devotion to Ireland and Australia and the poetic themes included references to his native home and the River Barrow.
The following year his book of essays on Irish and Australian poets, ‘Talks About Poets and Poetry’ was published. It included a masterful assessment of the Australian poets, Adam Gordon and Henry Kendall who Fr. Malone had heard of long before he left Ireland and whom he described as ‘the young and daring muses that had put spurs into Pegasus.’
In 1919 he transferred to the Parish of Ashby where he would remain for the rest of his life. In 1927 he took another 12 months sabbatical leave and for the last time visited places in and around Barrowhouse which had figured prominently in his poetry.
Special celebrations were held in 1939 on the 50th anniversary of his ordination and when he died in 1948 he was the senior priest in the Irish diocese of Melbourne, with 60 year’s service as a priest.
The Geelong Advertiser on 17th July 1948 wrote of the Irish priest orator and poet, ‘perhaps it does not occur to many of the Geelong citizens who observed Fr. Malone taking his daily stroll with his dogs that behind his ostentatious but distinctly charming manner is an ever growing intellectual fire, for his fame as an orator, poet and prose writer is not confined to Victoria or Australia. For many years he has enjoyed the enviable reputation of being the most eloquent Roman Catholic pulpit orator in the State.’
At his requiem mass Archbishop Mannix said, ‘Fr. Malone was a man of rare gifts of deep and wide cultural great learning. A versatile writer, he gave a distinction and charm to almost any subject he touched. He was a poet of no mean accomplishment. He was a preacher of rare distinction with an unlaboured flow of natural eloquence that always filled his churches and charmed and enriched his hearers. Yet with all his gifts he was a simple natural, humorous, kindly, hospitable man. He was loved even for those foibles and eccentricities which sometimes give distinction and charm to those more highly gifted than their fellows.’