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Despite Fr Peter Conway’s row with the Protestant rector of Headford, the Rev Dean Plunkett (and there were some appalling battles against Protestants to come), he got on surprisingly well with the landlord of the whole area, the impressively named Richard Mensergh St George, Esq, also the High Sheriff. Initially, when Conway asked him if he would donate land for a church for his Catholic tenants, the request was turned down flat. But out of the blue, St George invited Conway to his house one day and offered him an acre of ground ‘anywhere on his estate’, rent free forever; furthermore, he gave an additional seven acres of land for a priest’s house, and a subscription of £20 for a school.
I hope the recent scandals in the Catholic Church will not discourage the noble tradition of the cleric as the social champion of the people. It is time that we had their like to nail their colours to the mast once again. Growing up in the last century, I was familiar with such names as Fr James McDyer and his tireless campaign against the official neglect of Gleann Cholm Cile; and Canon George Quinn and his fight for better social housing. There were several others, who have spilled over into recent years, including Fr Peter McVerry and his fight for homeless people in Dublin, and Fr Harry Bohan and his belief in the staying power of families in rural Ireland. But the champion of them all, the priest with the soft voice and a twinkle in both eyes, was the indefatigable Monsignor James Horan. Not only did he re-design the village of Knock to make it more people friendly, he built schools, clinics, and a convent, and a vast basilica. He organised community water schemes, and forestry plantations, and built an impressive international airport in the bogs of Mayo.
Perhaps only Ladies Day at the races causes a similar frenzy to all the upset and commotion that heralds ‘Back to School’ at the end of August or beginning of September. It is the biggest event in the social year. After the long summer holiday children are in a daze as their parents lead them, often dressed in new clothes top to toe, forward into the yard. If it is their first day at school, mum or dad will linger for a while in the classroom, intimidated by the confidence of the young múinteoir, the small tables and chairs, the 57 varieties of slippers, and the smell of pencils and paint. They leave consumed by their own memories.
Preparations are under way for the widely acclaimed multi-platinum and award winning singer Fr Liam Lawton who is performing in St Patrick’s Church, Ballina, on Friday August 28 at 8.30pm. The Catholic priest, working in the diocese of Kildare & Leighlin south of Dublin, is widely admired in religious and non-religious circles nationally and internationally. Some of his most famous compositions such as ’The Clouds’ Veil’ and ‘The Hiding Place’ are performed at many religious ceremonies throughout the world.
I am sure that the good sisters at the renowned Ursuline convent school, Sligo, had no idea what they were letting themselves in for when Eilís Dillon and her sisters landed as boarders at their door. The Dillon girls were confident, challenging and extremely well read. Much of that confidence came from their fiercely nationalistic mother and father and their commitment during the War of Independence. Both parents were imprisoned; their father, Professor Tom Dillon, was ‘on the run’ for most of that time.