On the Sunday set aside by some as a day of protest when Sunday Mass throughout the island of Ireland was to be boycotted, Bishop Eamonn Walsh came to our local Church of St. Michaels to formally present the new parish team to the local parishioners. Our Parish Church, as it has been on Sundays in recent times, was about a quarter full, the small attendance owing nothing to the call for the Mass boycott. This year for the first time the entire parish team, including the Parish Priest and curate, have been replaced at the same time. Bishop Walsh in his homily referred to the recent events which prompted the change in parish personnel without throwing any light on what happened.
I have enormous sympathy for Fr. Michael Murtagh, our Parish Priest of a few months, whom I understand found himself the subject of complaints by some people. He was effectively removed from his new parish because of those complaints and I am sorry for the manner of his departure. The upheaval also saw the departure of Breda Carroll, the pastoral worker and Fr. Joe McDonald whose Sunday sermons were invariably thought provoking and never dull. Fr. Gerry Tanham is our new Parish Priest, having transferred from Malahide in north County Dublin where he was Parish Priest for some years past. Fr. Paul O’Driscoll joins the parish from Arklow, while Aine Egan is the new pastoral worker.
During Sunday’s ceremony Fr. Tanham spoke briefly of the role of the clergy in providing spiritual nourishment and facilitating social bonding within the parish community. I was particularly taken with his latter comment, opening as it did an avenue of exploration for a community which has been lacking in business leadership for so long. What you may ask can a Parish Priest do to rectify that omission? Perhaps nothing directly, but indirectly the parish community made up of long term residents, coupled with new arrivals who have come to Athy over the last few years, might be best able to accelerate the bonding process which is needed to energise the wider local community.
Bishop Walsh spoke of the parish team being engaged in ‘stimulating the spiritual nerve’ of the local community and the individuals within it. He did not go so far as Fr. Tanham’s call for social bonding but between the two stated objectives there can be resurgence and a re-awakening in all aspects of community life in Athy.
We will have an interesting visitor to the town on Friday, 22nd October who may have something to say on the reawakening of the Irish nation, when the Shackleton Autumn School hosts a lecture by historian, biographer, critic and controversial political commentator Fintan O’Toole, whose latest book ‘Ship of Fools’ I read this weekend. In it he analyses the ‘Celtic Tiger’ and the sweetheart deals, backhanders and bribery which were part and parcel of the property boom and the prosperity we then enjoyed. As part of his review of Ireland’s so called economic miracle he has made some interesting comments on the slow death of Catholic Ireland which had dominated the personal values of the majority of the population from the middle of the 19th century. O’Toole refers to the Catholic Church as ‘a corrupt institution’ which lost its authority following the various Church scandals, leaving no deeply rooted civic morality in its place. The Irish people, he claims, for too long identified morality with religion and were left moorless when the Catholic Church was cast adrift. We can expect an interesting talk from Fintan O’Toole when he appears in the Town Hall on 22nd October.
That same Sunday afternoon as Bishop Walsh spoke in St. Michaels the town was alive with activities arranged for Discovery Day in Athy. It was a wonderful occasion organised by The SHINE Committee, with a range of events and activities which demonstrated how well provided Athy is with a host of sporting clubs and associations. I had the privilege of meeting Athy’s Roses of Tralee over the weekend, when both Charmaine Kenny and Clare Kambamettu played a part in ‘Discover Athy’. Both are wonderful ambassadors for the town which has gained enormous publicity from their successes and from the success of the recent National Ploughing Championships which for the third year in succession will return to Athy as part of the 80th anniversary celebration of the National Ploughing Association. The central role of Athy man J.J. Bergin in founding the N.P.A. is well documented and it was he who arranged the first ploughing match on the Coursetown farmlands in 1931 which subsequently lead to the setting up of the N.P.A.
Athy has much to offer and as shown by men such as the late J.J. Bergin has much to benefit from a more participative community involvement in the social, cultural and commercial life of the town. Fr. Tanham’s remarks last Sunday made me realise that ‘spiritual nourishing’ and ‘social bonding’ may not be necessarily mutually exclusive.