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Clonbur and Cornamona say farewell to Fr Mannion

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KEEN RUNNER The late Fr Micheál Mannion is pictured last month during the 10k Great Lakes run (in aid of the Zambia Housing Project) in Clonbur.

Willie McHugh


EARLY dawn on Mothering Sunday and Dúiche Sheoighe hears first whispers of the most shocking, harrowing and hurtful happening visited on the region in decades. News of the tragic and untimely passing of Father Micheál Mannion, Parish Priest of Clonbur and Cornamona, travelled fast.
And as it journeyed it visited shock and disbelief inside every homestead from Maumeen Hill to Ballykyne Wood, from the Ferry Bridge to the American Crossroad in Cloughbrack, across Glantrague and back into the valley and far landings beyond.
As the week rolled on the realisation of the awfulness drilled deeper. The sense of loss, the sad tidings trespassed every generation gap. Everyone spoke lovingly of the young cleric who has left as good and lasting impression as any other who ministered to them.
How quickly things can change. Contrast the Clonbur and Cornamona of the now to ten short months back. Ciarán Burke is ever a reliable barometer to gauge the mood of the people who inhabit this tranquil countryside stately Mount Gable presides over.
So well he should be. As businessman and undertaker, Ciaran traipses life’s journey with them from the rocking of the cradle to the revving of the hearse.
On that morning Ciaran’s gleeful delight mirrored what Clonbur and Cornamona were feeling. Word had just arrived that Micheál Mannion was officially appointed parish priest of Clonbur and Cornamona. This was as great as good could get.
It’s a far more sombre Clonbur and Cornamona this week. Sudden happenings shred the routine script of life’s more mundane drama.
On Tuesday evening, An Fhairche came to a standstill as mourners from all corners of Ireland and beyond descended on the idyllic village to tender their respect to Máire, Teresa, Catherine, Tomás and the extended Mannion family.
From early Wednesday morning, St Patrick’s Church was wedged sardine-tight and the human overflow spilling out on to the church ground and the road beyond. Volunteer stewards enacted the well organised Clonbur action plan.
They do the simple things exceptionally well.
A diocese of priests gathered around chief celebrant Father Fergal Cunnane for the Mass and funeral rite. Nothing morbid about the occasion. It was a celebration of a great life well lived.  The ‘hear a pin drop’ silence was audible as his sister Catherine spoke on behalf of a family who were truly devastated.
Catherine talked affectionately of the brother and uncle a family truly adored. A son of the late John and Stella Mannion, the parents who held the ladder steady so their children could pursue life’s opportunities and dreams.
Of fun days too. The citóg in the family who kicked ball in the garden of childhood. She told of the gasúr who entertained his Ryehill school pals with the satirical lines he essayed.
Of his time and St Jarlath’s College and priestly studies in Maynooth. About the vocation call he answered. ‘To serve the people well’ was his mantra for becoming a priest.  
She talked of his regular and unannounced visits and the happiness and joy his every arriving brought. She spoke of their non-judgemental brother with a deep sense of justice.
All God’s creatures had a place in Micheál Mannion’s choir.
Of the sibling who loved the great outdoors to cycle, run and fish the waters of Lough’s Corrib and Mask. His last day out when he ran in the Clonbur staging of the Great Lakes Run to raise funds for the Zambian Housing project the area lends it biggest voluntary effort to. He was the furniture restorer, photographer, technical whizz kid, candle maker and a lover of apple tart. He could be anyone you wanted him to be.
To the altar they carried one of his aunt’s Eileen Malone’s famous baking.
A chisel and measuring tape, his bible, and the white collar boxing medal won at Clonbur’s ‘Brawl in the Hall’ only a month back. His Irish Pilgrimage Trust pack and the school jumper from Presentation College Athenry where the young learner loved to learn.
And a family photo snapped on a happy day the Mannion clan were all together.
In his homily Archbishop Michael Neary lauded the many fine virtues of the young priest who served in his diocese. And a reminder that priests ministering to the people needs ministering themselves betimes also.
On behalf of the Clonbur and Cornamona community, Michael Gannon, a proud son of Mayo they’ve now almost fully claimed as their own, gave a lovely eulogy on the Micheál Mannion they knew. A fine fist Michael made of it too.
Reliving again the Clonbur evening when the young priest sidled in among them. No bugles heralded his arrival. Standing beside a parked car was how Micheál Mannion telegraphed his coming among them.
And in his short time with them they came to know and love him as he baptised them, administered their first and last rites, and immersed himself actively in every venture that helped make the area the great place it is. Micheál Mannion sported and prayed with Clonbur and Cornamona. He chorused their sad songs and danced to their merry tunes. 
They said the last prayers and took him to his final resting place under his native Kilmoylan soil. As they carried him to the waiting hearse, Catriona Canney conducted the choir in a rendition of ‘Nearer my God to Thee’. They sang in harmonious tones to rival even the Mormon Tabernacle Choir itself.
Micheál Mannion was leaving Eden and heading home. But he wasn’t going alone.
The ordinary, plain, everyday people of Clonbur, Cornamona, Finney, Bookaun, Shanafaurhaun, Kilbride, Dooras, Crimlin and all the other little hamlets around where they still drink tea from mugs, and eat their dinner in the middle of the day, walked alongside him up the village for the final time.
Around Joyce Country they’ll remember him fondly forever and a day.

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