READY TO RETURN Fr Michael Gormally, parish priest of Ballinrobe (centre) is pictured with Cllr Damien Ryan and Cllr Patsy O’Brien at last year’s St Patrick’s Day parade. Pic: Conor McKeown
HE may have become something of an online local celebrity over the last four months thanks to his accomplished ‘behind closed doors’ performances when Mass has been streamed from St Mary’s Church in Ballinrobe, but Fr Michael Gormally can’t wait to get back to meeting real people in person again this week.
Tomorrow (Wednesday) is D-Day for the parish priest of Ballinrobe because for the first in four months he will say Mass for up to 50 of his parishioners at 10am.
After the Covid-19 enforced lockdown of the last twelve weeks, enough volunteers have been recruited to allow St Mary’s to re-open its doors again for regular masses.
Fr Gormally admits that he’s ‘a little apprehensive, but delighted’.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the familiar faces, smiling and winking up at me,” the Milltown native told The Mayo News. “I’m looking forward to seeing people like ‘Granny’, she knows who she is, looking up at me again. Or some of the young lads who’d be waving and winking. You’d miss all that interaction with people.”
Like most of us, Fr Gormally has been trying to make the best of a difficult situation over the last few months. A keen farmer, he says he’s been ‘tending to my other flock’ in his spare time and admits that he was ‘very thankful’ to two local men for bringing the idea of broadcasting Sunday morning Mass online to life during lockdown.
“I have to say that Liam Horan and Gerry Donnelly, who is the chairperson of our Pastoral Council, have been great. Without them we wouldn’t have been able to show the masses online at all. And of course, Jarlath Walsh, our sacristan, has been there every Sunday with us. Cathy Lydon, the parish secretary, has been a great help too.
“But the last few months have been horrible, with the doors locked and just looking at a mobile phone,” he added. “There’s no comparison with having people in the church. There was no choir, no sounds, no reaction, just silence.”
As for the impact of Coronavirus on both himself and the wider society, Fr Gormally believes that people should continue to be ‘cautious and careful’ and laments the hardship that Covid-19 restrictions have brought to bear on communities everywhere.
“Elderly people found it very hard. They’ve had to make massive sacrifices, not being able to see family and grandchildren, and being inside all the time. It’s been very hard for them.
“On the other hand, it was no harm for us to slow down a little bit and make time for the important things in life,” he mused. “Things like family, neighbours and the environment, to stand and smell the flowers a bit.
“My message now would be, ‘Keep the spirits up, we’ll get there. Let’s get through this together. Be cautious and careful’.
That will certainly be the message this week as the doors re-open to 50 people for mass on Wednesday and Friday morning at 10am, and again on Saturday evening at 7.30pm and Sunday morning at 11.30pm. Public health guidelines will be followed and people planing to attend are encouraged to wear a mask.
“My message to people is that they are more than welcome to come and join us, but just to make sure that they follow the direction of the ushers,” said Fr Gormally, who marked four years back in Ballinrobe parish last Sunday. He has now been based in the South Mayo town for a total of nine years during two stints, with five years in Achill sandwiched in between.
“And I’ll be there at the door to greet you. I can’t hug you, but I’ll greet you!
“And if people have concerns, don’t come, stay where you are. The Mass at 11.30am on Sunday will be broadcast online.”
St Mary’s Church in Ballinrobe will be open to the public for Mass on Wednesdays at 10am, Fridays at 10am, Saturdays at 7.30pm and Sundays at 11.30am.