I was once a haloed angel but never since
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.