Fr Kevin Hegarty
THOSE who were there on the day still talk about it almost 65 years later. It was September 23 1951 when Mayo landed in the All-Ireland football final in Croke Park. though Mayo were reigning All-Ireland champions but Meath were favourite to win. They had beaten Mayo in their four previous clashes.
The first quarter of the game seemed to justify the journalistic predictions. Meath raced into a three point lead. However, a magnificent goal by full forward, Tom Langan, brought Mayo back into the match. Though Meath led by a point at half time Mayo pulled away in the last 30 minutes to win the Sam Maguire cup by four points. Among the Mayo heroes on that day, there was a man named Peter Quinlan on the programme. There was, however, no one on the team who answered to that name.
Peter Quinlan was in reality Peter Quinn. Peter had been ordained a priest the previous December. Catholic Church rules then forbade priests to take part in inter-county games. The Mayo County Board, to circumvent the rule, devised what might be called an early version of what Charles J Haughey famously dubbed: ‘An Irish solution to an Irish problem’.
Peter Quinn never played for Mayo again. A week after the final he left Ireland to start his ministry as a missionary in the Philippines. On All-Ireland day the following year, far from the land of the shamrock and heather, he listened to the game on a crackly radio in his presbytery.
His story is told in Fr Brendan Hoban’s new book ‘Telling the story’. The publication is a dictionary of priests who are natives of or served in the Diocese of Killala which covers North Mayo and West Sligo. It complements three earlier volumes from his pen on the diocese.
The brilliant Dominican historian, Fr Hugh Fenning, once said that an adequate evaluation of the history of Irish Catholicism cannot emerge until there are comprehensive diocesan and parish studies. Brendan’s work is a substantial contribution to the national jigsaw. Within the 880 pages of the new book there is a substantial record of the pastoral ministry of well over 1,000 priests.
It is a story that spans the centuries, from the crucifixion cross slabs of the Inishkeas and Duvillaun to the proud Cathedral of the Moy, from the seventh century visit of St Brendan to Inishglora to the contemporary monks of Holy Hill. It is the story of men who celebrated the Eucharist from Beltra to Ballycroy, from Aughadoon to Aughris, from Surgeview to Skreen. It is the story also of priests from the diocese who served on every continent of the world.
The book, in remembering them, honours them. It is the story of men whose lives were intertwined with their communities. It the story of men who preached the good news. It is the story of men who bound up hearts that were broken. It is the story of men who celebrated Mass Sunday after Sunday, sometimes in the past on mass rocks or in roofless chapels.
It is the story of men who baptised and forgave in the home of Christ. It is the story of men who fought valiantly for the human rights of their people. They were not perfect, Fr Brendan avoids holy hagiography. They had their oddities and their addictions, their phobias and their fantasies, their fragilities and their failures, their sadness and their sins. Some are more into love of authority then the authority of love.
All human life has its light, shade and darkness, and all of it is in this book. It is available from all good bookshops. As Con Houlihan used to say: ‘Are there any other kind?’