A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Sparkle Still in the Emerald Isle

I went to Ireland for a three month course starting on September 19, after the Newman Beatification Mass in Birmingham. The aircraft was full of pilgrims from the Mass: Bishops, clergy and lay people. I noticed the easy familiarity between clergy and people, chatting across aisles and even over the top of seats.
When I told an Irish friend I was due in Ireland on 19 September, she said that was a great day to arrive in Dublin. I said I knew that Cardinal Newman spent some years there, but she answered that she was referring to the All Ireland GAA Grand Final at Croke Park on September 19. Her team Kerry had just missed out on the Final.

There was a time after the 1916 Uprising when the Irish Bishops urged the people to play the Irish cultural sports, Gaelic football and hurling, in preference to the colonial sports of the oppressors. The Irish sports still have a firm grip on the imagination of the people, especially in the countryside, though the larger towns have strong rugby and soccer franchises.

During the whole time of my visit the media were obsessed with the death of the ‘Celtic Tiger’, the nickname for the booming economy of 1995 – 2007, and furious scapegoating was in progress. The bankers and government ministers were the main targets. Everyone was trying to analyse what went wrong; there was great public indignation that the huge national debt pointed to years of future austerity. Church agencies pointed out that the poor must not be made to shoulder the bulk of the burden, but otherwise stayed out of the debate. People were asking how did we get into this dreadful situation.
One journalist caught the mood by invoking the famous W.B. Yeats poem:
“Was it for this …
For this that all that blood was shed,
For this, Edward Fitzgerald died, And Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone, All that delirium of the brave?
Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone, It’s with O’Leary in the grave.”

The Celtic Tiger’s dead and gone, and someone must take responsibility. Brian Lenihan the Government Treasurer tried to spread the blame, and often said “We all partied.” But some of those who caused the economic mayhem are still reaping the benefits, and some who did not party will still pay.
Parishes were responding to the economic crisis in various ways. In Rathmore parish I visited in Kerry, there was an active social action group operating out of the parish centre to help victims of the downturn.
I was bracing myself for the on-going effect of clergy abuse scandals, but matters were quiet on that front. The Ryan Report and the Murphy Report were being processed. The only case to hit the media was that of former priest Tony Walsh, serial abuser and member of a music group of priests who had a repertoire of Elvis Presley songs. Every time his case was on TV news, the network ran a tape of Tony Walsh gyrating to an Elvis song. Not a pretty sight. Elvis deserves more respect.

There was a seminar offered at All Hallows ‘How to remain a Catholic after the Murphy Report’ which presented some perspectives on what being a Catholic means, and what it does not.
I often attended Sunday Mass in parishes, and there was no sense of crisis or communal gloom at what had happened. I did notice that every sacristy has prominently displayed a copy of the national guidelines for the protection of children, prompting someone to remark that it is probably the safest place in the world for children at present.

My lasting impression was that parish life was very similar to Australia and New Zealand. Parishes are sharing pastors in some dioceses. One priest described his visit for Mass like living in a cuckoo clock, coming out of his niche, singing a song and then disappearing for a week. I also had the strange experience of visiting a diocese with no bishop – like coming home from school with no parent in the house.

Sunday Masses were joyful experiences, though not many teens were in evidence. One Sunday Mass was bursting with young parents and families, with a highly active Children’s Liturgy. Visitors risked being trampled underfoot. One weekend I visited Belfast, but that is another story.

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