Tuesday, August 6, 2019
Financing Athy's Parish Church
Many years ago I wrote an Eye on the Past on that late great man Tom Carbery who lived at No. 2 St. Martin’s Terrace, Athy. Tom was a carpenter and a public representative for many years who served on Athy Urban District Council and also on Kildare County Council. I was reminded this week of Tom who was first elected to Athy U.D.C. in 1928 when St. Michael’s Parish Church bulletin carried a notice advising parishioners of a fee to be charged for the use of the parish church for funerals. The notice read: ‘The Diocese of Dublin and the Irish Association of Funeral Directors have agreed that the standard fee for a funeral through (sic) the Dublin Diocese be €325 from 1st July and will be increased to €400 on 1st January 2020. This fee includes the payment to the church as well as the offering to the priests and to the sacristan’. I was reminded of Tom Carbery because it was Tom who many years ago railed against the practice then common enough throughout Ireland whereby families too poor to pay for the attendance of a clergyman at a funeral had to bury their dead without a clergyman officiating at the graveside. Tom raised the issue initially in the context of the practice relating to St. Vincent’s Hospital where deceased inmates were buried in the absence of a clergyman but with the apparent benefit of previously blessed clay scattered on the coffin remains by a fellow inmate. In the town of Athy those too poor to pay for the attendance of a priest at least had available to them the services of the local sacristan as they brought the deceased from the death bed straight to the local cemetery. It was a shameful time in Irish church history where money or its absence to all intents and purposes played a significant part in church affairs. It was a time when the periodic dues payable by parishioners were read from the altar and when funeral masses involved attendees walking up to a table placed before the altar to contribute money in a century’s old tradition which was originally intended to help the family of the deceased. However, that community help was later diverted for the sole benefit of the clergyman, a practice which thankfully is now no more. However, the diocesan announcement of the €400 fee from January next for the reception of a deceased into the Catholic church is a regrettable throwback to the unforgettable days of yesteryear when money and influence determined whether you got a high mass or a low mass or no mass at all on the day of your funeral. An announcement of church fees for use of the church for funerals sends out the wrong message to parishioners whose families, no more than 60 years ago, spent time and energy over many years collecting funds for the building of St. Michael’s Parish Church. It is our church and while we have a responsibility as a community to maintain the church and the clergymen who serve us, it is utterly wrong to signal a fee for something as personal and non-commercial as a funeral. The diocese should reconsider its decision irrespective of its claim that ‘while this fee for funerals will be asked for in the parishes of Athy, Narraghmore and Moone, discretion will be used in all situations where families are experiencing financial hardship. Also the present practice of the parish not charging for the funerals of babies or children will continue.’ Another recent announcement, this time from Irish Rail, also attracted my attention. It was that Athy Railway Station was in the near future to be a ‘staffless station’. Technological advances have apparently allowed Irish Rail to sell tickets and presumably to deal with whatever other functions a staff member had to undertake during his or her working day. At a time when the railway is being used far more than ever in the past the railway company’s decision seems extraordinary. I can remember a time when there was a multiplicity of staff from the station master downwards including signal box staff and porters. In more recent times the numbers have dwindled to one staff member who sold tickets, dealt with queries, assisted disabled passengers access trains by putting ramps in place. No doubt we can buy our tickets by using a machine or on the train but how are the other duties now performed by a railway staff member to be performed and by whom? The decision to leave Athy railway station unmanned is an extraordinary one and will leave many rail users bewildered and quite helpless.