The Avondhu - By The Fireside 2020
Sraharla/Knockanevin en fête 50 years ago
The schools and colleges had just reopened after the summer holidays in 1970 when the letter arrived in the post. The postmark read ‘Newry, Co. Down’, so I wondered who had sent me this hand-written letter. Opening it I found it was from a neighbour who was, at the time, a final year clerical student in the Society of African Missions Novitiate in Dromantine.
John (Seán) Dunne was due to be ordained to the priesthood on December 16th and hoped to celebrate his first Mass in Saint Molagga's Church, Sraharla at 6pm on December 17th. He asked if I would play the church organ for that special occasion and if my little choir of school-children would sing. I was overwhelmed!
In disbelief, I read and re-read the letter. I felt both privileged and scared! Replying to Seán I told him I would do my best though my musical abilities were limited. I asked him to send me a list of the hymns, etc., we should do. Typical of his humble and gentle nature he left the choice to me.
So I got advice from some nuns in my family that helped me draw up a list of suitable hymns, bearing in mind that my choir consisted of primary school children and that we had just three months of limited school time to allot to practice. The children were fantastic and committed to learning and practicing with gusto (possibly helped by bribes and threats!).
A JOYOUS OCCASION
It was a wonderful occasion in Knockanevin. Forty years had elapsed since there had been a local priest ordained and the community was determined that it would be marked. The pride, joy and excitement of the people of Sraharla,
Knockanevin and all the surrounding townlands was palpable in the air!
On the evening of December 16th, as Father Seán and his family returned home from Dromantine, bonfires were lit along the route from Sraharla church to the Dunne homestead! Today (if that happened), several units of the Fire Brigade would be dispatched to the scene!
Father Seán celebrated his first Mass the following evening at 6pm. Our church was packed to capacity. Everyone was aware of the solemnity of the occasion, but also of the joy and privilege of being present. Canon Linehan and Father Murphy (our parish priest and curate at the time) were jubilant, proud and encouraging. The sacristan, Arthur Hennessy and the altar servers were on high alert, eager to do things right for this momentous occasion and they acquitted themselves with honours.
The children sang their hearts out! Their young, innocent, sweet voices rang out, bringing added joy to the occasion. They were justly rewarded with big bags of sweets from Michael Dunne, father of the newly-ordained priest. To be part of that wonderful evening was a joyous experience I've never forgotten and the celebrations continued until the small hours of the next morning.
The local school, Father Seán's Alma Mater, was closing for Christmas holidays the following day. Father Seán and some of his family joined us that day for our Christmas concert and party. He blessed all the children and both teachers individually. There was no better way to start the Christmas holidays.
Congratulations on your golden jubilee in 2020 Father Seán. Beannacht De ort agus go maire tú cead.