Fr Micheál Mac Gréil was a giant of the west


FOREVER CAMPAIGNING The late Fr Micheál Mac Gréil speaking at a conference on the Western Rail Corridor organised by the Western Development Commission and West On Track in Claremorris, back in 2009. Pic: Keith Heneghan

THERE was much sadness and sorrow across the county over the weekend as news broke of the death of Fr Micheál Mac Gréil, the well-known Jesuit priest.
Fr Micheál, who was in his 92nd year, was a regular visitor to The Mayo News office in Westport, where he used to call to converse with our former Editor, Seán Staunton, and his close relative, our own journalist Edwin McGreal. Following Seán’s sad passing in 2014, Fr Micheál continued to call to the office and often contributed some carefully selected words throughout Letters to the Editor section.
Fr Micheál was a larger than life figure, a man who had a real presence about him and he used that presence to take on social prejudice for most of his life.
It was indeed fitting that even President Michael D Higgins felt it worthy to pay tribute to the great man.
“Micheál Mac Gréil as university teacher, campaigner and priest made a deep impact on so many lives,” said the President over the weekend.
“Throughout all of his work, Micheál Mac Gréil brought a sense of the urgency of recognising justice issues of compassion. His was an early and constant call for the importance of overcoming social prejudice.
“This was reflected in the broad range of causes he supported, such as fighting for the rights of Travellers, for the Irish language, for prison reform, for the decriminalisation of homosexuality, and in support of the Irish language and the development of the western region.
“Across his many publications, Micheál emphasised the need for economic arrangements to serve as a means of strengthening community, family, volunteerism and cultural values, rather than at their expense. He was a man who truly gave authenticity to the importance of linking life and values, something which he taught to so many. He will be greatly missed by all of us who knew him.”
Fr Micheál made thousands of acquaintances over the years with his constant campaigning and one of the those many friends, Colman Ó Raghallaigh from the West of Track organisation, where Fr Micheál was patron, perfectly summed up the breadth of involvement of the genial Jesuit.
“Jesuit, soldier, academic, trade unionist, social radical, rail campaigner – he was all of these things - but ultimately he was just a proud and decent Irishman who wanted the best for all. He will be greatly missed by all of us who had the privilege of knowing and working with him,” wrote Colmán.
Another of Fr Micheál’s great friends was our own De Facto columnist, Liamy MacNally, who back in 2021 dedicated his column to Fr Micheál on the occasion of his 90th birthday.
The column is still available on our website and is well worth a read for those who would not be overly familiar with the amount of work that Fr Micheál got through during his long and well-lived life.
As Liamy stated at the conclusion of his column: “On so many levels he is an ambassador. He welcomes visitors to our town, carries out surveys on social, economic and faith life and is a priest with common sense, full of Gospel values. He will read this in his Loughloon cottage, a bit miffed because he did not want any fuss. (I’ll ask for forgiveness!) He will gaze out at his daffodils stretching up to the heavens in all their majesty. He loves that view and the simple beauty of the daffodils in bloom. They never miss a year.
“We will convince him that all the birthday wishes are also little bouquets. We salute him for his kindness, generosity and love, and thank him and assure him of our appreciation and respect. A national treasure!”
Fr Micheál’s funeral will take place in Cushlough and Westport this Wednesday and Thursday and in next week’s Mayo News we will pay a special tribute to a man who lived his life for the betterment of others, in whatever ever way he could. Ní bheidh a leithéid arís ann.