Shanghied to St. Finians 1963 - 1964
At the end of a very happy and fulfilling year in Navan, when I had found my feet there, I was shanghaied into teaching in St. Finian's, the very thing I had gone to America six years earlier to avoid. The gag among the priests of the diocese was that both Fr. Holloway, the Administrator of Navan and Fr. Jack Kearney, President of St. Finian's, both wanted my services and that Fr. Kearney won me in a game of cards. I don't know if he was happy with his win but I certainly was not. I detested the assignment. To make it worse, I had graduated in English but was given classes to teach in everything except English - a bit of Irish, a bit of Latin, a bit of history and if Swahili was on the curriculum I knew that I would be teaching that. I was irrevocably determined to get out of the college. I was ordained, I felt, for parish work and now I was given a life sentence away from it.
Sometime in March of that year I was driving through Mullingar on my way to an American tea party in Mercy Convent school in Navan and I thought to myself "it is immature to remain without protest in an assignment you are thoroughly unhappy in." On the spur of the moment I decided to call into the bishop - Bishop Kyne at that time - to inform him of my unhapiness with my teaching post in St. Finian's. I told him I did not wish to embarrass his plans, but if it was possible to remove me from the college and assign me to a parish, any parish, I would be forever grateful. "Do you not like it in there, a Mhic " he said. I said, "No way". "Leave it with me " he said, "if you're not cut out for it, that place would drive you mad. I was there for a while myself." Two months later he assigned me as a curate to Navan, where I worked happily for another 23 years until my appointment as parish priest of Kingscourt in 1987.
Curate in Navan in 1964 to 1982
Like most of the towns in Ireland in 1964 Navan was grossly under developed. The population of the entire parish at that time, urban and rural, was 6,500 people. The change began to happen in 1966 and between then and 1987 the population grew to 16,000. By 2007 it had grown to 30,000.
From the standpoint of 2007, the summer of 1964 seems a universe away. Forty three years is a significant block of history in any age. But the 43 years in question has been a watershed in terms of experience and values. The skylines of 1964 have long since dissolved and the stage of history has, many times since, been cleared and reset. It is interesting to put the Navan of 1964 into the context of its time.
The pastoral life of Navan was still permeated by the fortress attitudes of the Counter Reformation. The country as a whole, was still within the traditions of what have come to be called the deValera years.
DeValera himself was in Áras an Uachtarán, Sean Lemass was Taoiseach. Fr. Abbot had just become Administrator of Navan in succession to Fr. Holloway, who had been appointed Parish Priest of Moynalvey. The Mercy community numbered 54 sisters. There was a similar number of sisters in the Loreto community.
On the southside, the town stopped at the County Hospital. North of the Round O were green fields. There was little in the way of building west of the carpet factory, or east of Spicers Bakery.
On the Dublin road you ran out of town at Hoggs, subsequently Crannac, now appartments. There was one church and three schools with one mass at 8 o'clock every morning. The Vocational School on Abbey Road, now replaced, was being built. Mercy Secondary School was located in what I used to think was a tin shed. The Rugby Club, the O'Mahony's Pavilion, Claremont Stadium, the Dan Shaw Hall, the Order of Malta Hall, the Simonstown Pavilion, the Ardboyne Hotel, the Beechmount Hotel (now disappeared) the Newgrange Hotel, the Solstice Theatre, Navan Shopping Centre, St. Oliver's Church and school, the Credit Union offices on Kennedy Road, were all a long way in the future. The Forester's Hall was on the Circular Road at the Railway Street corner, the Post Office on Trimgate Street has now become McDonalds. The Royal Showband with Brendan Boyer, the Miami with Dickie Rock, the Melody Aces and Mick Delahunty featured prominently in Beechmount dance hall. "Liverpool Lou", "Telstar" and "Things" sung by Frankie Lane were the top hits of the season. Almost 50% of the 2007 poulation of Navan was either not yet born or not yet arrived.
The Second Vatican Council
At this time, an event was taking place in Rome whose repercussions changed all our landscapes and has had many implications for the work of priests since then.
On the 9th October 1962 Pope John XXIII called the Bishops of the world to Rome for the opening session of the Second Vatican Council. The Book of Genesis tells us that in the beginning God created man and rested. In October 1962 Pope John XXIII convoked the Vatican Council and since then neither God nor man has rested. The decrees of that Council, more than any other event in the long history of the Church, became a powerful solvent of traditional attitudes, setting the Church on a new and exciting trajectory. The walls of the fortress church began to be dismantled and in a succession of revolutionary decrees and Papal Encyclicals "Mater et Magestra", "Pacem in Terris", "Progressio Populorum", the Church called priests, religious and laity to be heralds of aggornomento in all fields of endeavour, in liturgical renewal, Christian education, Catechetics, Theology, Evangelisation, Youth Work, Missions, Social Action and the Pastoral Care of God's people.
Pre Marriage Course
In my first year in Navan (1962-63) I took over the pre-marriage course, which had been initiated by Fr. Joe Abbot and initiated a post marriage and parenting course. On my return to Navan in 1964-65 I resumed work with both those organisations. The pre marriage course was held on two week nights during six weeks of Lent and was availed of by about 50 engaged couples. Matters dealt with included marriage as sacrement and contract, morality in the marriage relationship, budgeting in the family, legal matters as they applied to young married couples (will etc.), medical matters concerning pregnancy and childbirth, wedding etiquette and the marriage ceremony. The post marriage course was held on the Sunday nights of Lent and was also very well availed of. The emphasis in this course was largely on the husband wife relationship as they became settled in married life and on parenting matters.
1964 - The Women's Sodality and
1966 - The Day Care Nursery in Athlumney
On the departure of 1964 I was entrusted with the Women's Sodality, a post vacated by Fr. Holloway on his departure to Moynalvey. It involved a meeting with a crowded church full of women, once a month and an annual retreat which eventually grew into a full parish mission. The collection taken up at those monthly meetings went to financing the provision of our next social projec - the Day Care Nursery in Athlumney. The old bakery in Athlumney had long since ceased as a bakery. It had fallen into seious disrepair.
I took it over in 1966 and renovated it totally as a Day Nursery for the children of families who had suffered permanent or temporary disruption due to illness or hospitalisation of the mother, or where the mother was unavoidably absent from home during the day because of the need of the mother work outside the home. The centre was extended twice in 1972 and 1976. It was staffed by one Sister of Mercy and three girls catering daily for up to sixty children between the age of three months and four years, between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. It provided for complete day care for those children, including meals and a careful eye kept on their medical needs. Sadly, it was closed down in 2001 as a result of a requested and reluctant fire officer's report. Very little money or effort could have remedied whatever flaws were presumed to be in the building.
School Chaplain Navan Vocational School 1964
During the years 1964 to 1968 I taught religion to the girls' classes in the Vocational School. This required eighteen hours per week as part of my normal parish work. I continued in this role until I was replaced by a paid chaplain in 1968.
I replaced Fr. Herbert as manager of St. Joseph's Mercy Primary School in 1969. I tried to visit the children every day for religious instruction, especially the First Communion and Confirmation classes. At this time I also taught religion to the Leaving Certificate classes in St. Joseph's Girls Secondary School. I was replaced in that role by Fr. Joe McEvoy in 1986. When Dowdstown House became available I took the girls out at the end of each year for whole day's talk on pre-marriage relationships, given by professional speakers.
St. Mary's Community Centre
Reconstruction and Renovation 1970 - 1971
By 1969 the Catholic Young Men's Hall, initiated by Dean Cogan in 1863 and completed in 1865, was completely dilapidated. Water was leaking into what was grandly called "the supper room". The toilets were in a ruinous condition, and the floor of the main hall was washed down each week into the area under the stage. The weekly Bingo session was held there each Monday night. When Fr. Paddy Stewart was appointed parish priest of Moynalvey in September 1970, I took over the management of the Young Men's Hall and the running of the Bingo. So at the beginning of 1970 I had an advertisement published in the Meath chronicle looking for volunteers to renovate the entire premises. The advertisement read:
Men of any age, with or without skills Generosity and Civic Mindedness the only Qualifications, - to undertake renovation of St. Mary's Parish Hall
Working conditions often rough and unpleasant; Mostly night work;
No travelling expenses; No fringe benefits; No wages;
Recognition? Hopefully; Gratitude? Possibly - at a later date;
Reward? The satisfaction of of job well done and a glow of pride in years to come when you tell the youngsters, perhaps yet unborn, we put that there in the days when there were men who were big enough to make sacrifices for others.
Apply: Rev. A. Farrell, C.C., Navan.
What made St. Mary's Community Centre possible was the magnificent offer of voluntary labour from the men of the parish, in response to that call. Men from every trade in the parish - builders, electricians, plasterers, plumbers, heating experts, woodworkers and labourers- all came forward and offered their services free. I recall an article which I sent to the Meath Chronicle at that time, in which I said, "It would be much easier to hire a contractor to do the job but it would not do half as much for the spirit of the parish".
The sense of involvement and spirit of co-operation and participation which the voluntary work produces is something more valuable than even the Centre itself. Two men responded to that call within a week, the late Eamon Boyle and the late Joe Meehan. With sledge hammers, spades, shovels and wheelbarrow the three of us tackled the work and continued to do so each evening during the early months of 1970 Fr. Abbot to his assignment as parish priest if Summerhill Coole in 1969 I assumed the management of St. Ultan's school for slow learners. The school was founded by Fr. Abbot in 1966. It had been totally demolished in a fire on the initiative of two "grateful pupils" in 1969. It was replaced by a new permanent building in September of the same year. I had the school extended in 1971. In 1978 four more prefabricated classrooms were provided and the entire play area was extended,due to the gift of extra land made available by Mr. Reggie Casey, the neighbouring landowner, who had provided the site for the school when it was first established. The Navan Lions' Club had also contributed significantly to the development of the school. I continued as manager of St. Ultan's until I was replaced in that post by Fr. Brendan Corrigan, when I was appointed to Kingscourt in 1987.
We soon realised that we needed professional and paid labour if the Young Men's Hall was to become a state of the art Community Centre for the Navan parish,which was growing at such a phenomenal rate in the early 1970s. With professional advice and dedicated workforce, the Centre was completed and ready for opening. The opening took place on Sunday, 16th May 1971 with a spectacular concert which included the Mercy Convent Primary School singers ( known that time as "The Thrushes, The Robins and the Humming Birds"), the Navan Silver Band (who had just won an All Ireland trophy ), the soprano, Patricia Cahill, "The Mountaineers"- all under the Master of Ceremonies, Kevin Hilton (the comedian). The admission on the night was 50 pence and I was told, seriously, that if I continued to charge that kind of money for our concerts we would not have many people attending- a "rip-off", they said, "taking advantage of the recent change over to decimalisation". In today's terms 50 pence would be worth 63 cents. A rip-off! Admission to the same concert in Dublin today would at least 30 euro.
This was followed by a full week of entertainment. On Wednesday night there was ballroom dancing with Mick Delahunty. The hall was so crowdedmany people could not gain admission.On Thursday night we had another concert, compered by Jack Cruise and featuring Colm Wilkinson, who has since gone on to greater things- sing the lead part in "Les Miserables" in Canada, over the past several years. Saturday night was disco night for the teenagers- 8 to 11 p.m.- the first of many over the next several years.
With the completion of the project, Navan then had a state of the art community centre which accomodated drama, musicals, dancing, both ballroom and disco, the very large trade fairs of the time, the meals on wheels programme, dinner dances for parish workers in the early days, Bingo every Monday night- the chief source of income for the Social Needs Programme, which serviced so many other community projects. With the building of a large new wing over the supper room, it accomodated the district court and also parish and civic meetings.