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Passion play about communality and contemporary concerns

On the Edge

On The Edge
Áine Ryan

THE communality of Ballintubber Abbey’s annual Passion play, ‘The Triumph of Easter’, underscores everything that is wonderful and uplifting about rural society. Played out in the atmospheric grounds of this ancient edifice each year during Holy Week, it could be argued that it is the spiritual version of going to a Mayo match: there is lots of pain and suffering, grinding and gnashing of teeth, but a win ultimately causes the soul to soar high in the heavens.
Those of us of a certain age remember too well the days when Lent and its litany of compulsory privations was an integral part of every self-sacrificing spring. But the symbolic pain and suffering of Christ on the road to Calvary and on the Cross culminated in the triumph of his resurrection on Easter Sunday morning when lots of chocolate, Easter eggs, alcohol (if we had worn sackcloth and ashes and given up the dreaded dhrink) awaited our welcome day of indulgence.
The cross-millennial story of Ballintubber Abbey and, indeed, the adjacent Tóchar Phádraig pilgrim path reaches right back to a time when the simplicity of faith had not been corrupted by all the contemporary ‘isms’ that challenge us these days – materialism, corporatism, globalism, Trumpism, Theresa May-ism, social media-ism, car-parking-charges-ism!
So too does this annual drama bring us right back to the basic precepts of faith and the need for a dimension to our lives that brings us beyond the constraints of ‘ego’. Significantly, the ‘Triumph of Easter’ is presented in the open-air amphitheatre whose backdrop still tells the story of us as a people.
 
Challenges of faith
THE challenges we face – whether we dub our society as Christian or post-Christian – is dramatised so powerfully by some 70 members, of all ages, of this community since 1982.
Indeed, local man Con Lydon, a key person in the ongoing development plans for the abbey, has played the crucified Christ from the beginning. And in the words of Independent Cllr Michael Kilcoyne at the last meeting of Castlebar Municipal District, when there was a presentation made about the future of the abbey: “Con Lydon gets crucified every Good Friday.”   
For longtime curate, Fr Frank Fahey the play always has a contemporary resonance whether it was during the heady days of the Celtic Tiger or during its collapse when even those who were the rich beneficiaries of the boom needed the comfort and compassion that is the gift of faith.
“The Passion is about the struggle of people in every day life,” Fr Fahey explained to The Mayo News last week. “It is about the homeless, who we are hearing so much about these days; it is about refugees and asylum seekers; it is about victims of drug abuse. These are people amongst us who have no influence and their vote doesn’t matter.”
He also  observed that while the institutional Church has received a battering in recent years over clerical abuse scandals, the good work it continues to do through priests like Peter McVerry and the trust he established for the homeless and socially disadvantaged and Brother Kevin Crowley who founded the Capuchin Day Centre for the Homeless in Dublin.   
In one dramatic sequence a group of players says: “We are the poor, the hungry, the starving, the marginalised, the displaced and homeless.” They then ask God why he has forsaken them.
No matter what our definition or concept of God happens to be, the universality and currency of the Passion of Christ remains relevant to us as an allegedly progressive species, which thus makes the Ballintubber Abbey Passion play a compelling experience.

‘Triumph of Christ’
THE annual Ballintubber Abbey Passion play will be presented in the grounds of the abbey tonight, Tuesday, April 16 and tomorrow, Wednesday, April 17, at 9pm sharp. Wear warm clothes. Admission is free but donations are welcome.
A Tóchar Phádraig pilgrimage from Ballintubber Abbey to Aughagower will take place on Easter Monday next, April 22. It will depart the abbey at 11am. For more, visit www.ballintubberabbey.ie or phone 094 9030934.