I was once a haloed an­gel but never since

Irish Examiner - Farming - - COVER STORY -

On a Good Fri­day af­ter­noon, years ago in the lit­tle Ar­ney chapel in Co Fer­managh, the peo­ple filed up the aisle to kiss the cru­ci­fix held by Fa­ther Don­nelly, the par­ish priest. He was then the tallest cler­gy­man in all Ire­land. His bald head was nearly scrap­ing the rafters.

He was flanked by two tiny al­tar boys hold­ing the rit­ual can­dles. The mirac­u­lous event I’m about to re­veal to you oc­curred about mid­way through the cer­e­mony, and caused shock and awe and won­der.

Again, the sa­cred truth. The al­tar boy to the left of Fa­ther Don­nelly be­came one of the best known priests in the land, Fa­ther Brian D’Arcy, then only 10 or 11 years old. The lad on the other side, about the same age, was Cor­mac MacCon­nell.

All three were stand­ing in­side the al­tar rails when the sur­real event oc­curred. Like a flash, you see, a bright blue halo, clearly vis­i­ble to the en­tire con­gre­ga­tion, sud­denly ap­peared above the head of one of the holy trio.

It did not ap­pear any­where near the bald dome of Fa­ther Don­nelly.

It did not go any­where near the youth­ful head of Fa­ther Brian D’Arcy.

No. It glit­tered di­rectly over the head of Cor­mac Mac Con­nell. And the con­gre­ga­tion gasped.

I swear, by all the saints in Heaven that, once again, as al­ways, I am telling ye the pure truth.

Avert your gaze for the mo­ment from the griz­zled image above.

It is then more likely you will accept that, at the age of ten years, dressed in sur­plice and soutane, it was not at all sur­pris­ing that a halo should emerge over my head. With coal black curls, and green eyes, I was then, frankly, very in­no­cently an­gelic. It was a hard bur­den to bear, too, be­cause I was con­stantly be­ing hugged by the ma­trons of the par­ish.

I did not at all en­joy be­ing crushed against their whale­bone corsets, and those yokes called brassieres, as they cooed over me, but I never com­plained, not even once. If you are so an­gelic that a halo will ac­tu­ally ap­pear over your head in a chapel one day, then, that is the bur­den you will­ingly bear.

It is sad, that the age of self­ies was far ahead of us when the event took place. How­ever, from the Boxbrownie-land of the 1950s, I re­tain proof pos­i­tive that I was in­deed an an­gelic fig­ure, back then. The photo of the fam­ily is brown­ing now, rather than black and white, but it would be ac­cepted as pow­er­ful proof, in any court in the land. Ye need a lit­tle de­tail about the event. I’m happy to pro­vide it here and now. Be­fore I went off to the Ar­ney chapel for sa­cred du­ties, my dear mother made sure I had prop­erly washed my­self.

She combed my hair also, and ap­plied sev­eral drops of bril­liantine from the Max Fac­tor bot­tle, used for the boys’ hair as well.

I was look­ing my best when tak­ing up my post be­side Fa­ther Don­nelly for the cer­e­mony.

It was all very solemn and sad, and holy, as Good Fri­days al­ways are.

It was also a very slow ex­er­cise, be­cause the priest had to wipe the cru­ci­fix be­tween each re­spect­ful kiss.

The feet of the faith­ful shuf­fled slowly up and down the sin­gle aisle.

Next thing, like a flash, the blue halo ap­peared di­rectly over my head! In­cred­i­ble! Even more in­cred­i­ble was what fol­lowed im­me­di­ately. I was sud­denly be­ing as­saulted about my an­gelic head by a neigh­bour.

He was a mem­ber of one of the many lo­cal fam­i­lies bear­ing the sur­name Love.

He was beat­ing me up with his tweed cap, so he was, and kept it up un­til the awe­some blue halo dis­ap­peared, and I was down on my knees with the shock.

In fair­ness to the big priest, he kept the cer­e­mony go­ing all the time, with­out a break. But the shock and awe in the chapel was very con­sid­er­able.

I also re­mained at my post un­til all was over. An­gels do that.

It later emerged that I was maybe saved by Love from join­ing the other an­gels above that af­ter­noon.

It seems that the bril­liantine on my curls was as po­tent as petrol, and I had nod­ded off slightly, and a strand of the quiff my mother had built for me had in­stantly ex­ploded, spread across my scalp, and cre­ated the amaz­ing blue halo. Fact is of­ten stranger than fic­tion, is it not?

I had only a very su­per­fi­cial burn on my fore­head, hav­ing been saved by Mr Love, and the curls grew back again in a cou­ple of months.

My only later re­gret about the in­ci­dent was that I was about the only one in the chapel who did not see the halo. The truth once more. Need­less to say, no halo ever came any­where near my head ever again, to date. But you never know, do you, what to­mor­row may bring?

Once an an­gelic lit­tle boy, Cor­mac even had a halo.

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