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190 unmarked Achill graves to be blessed

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Church of Ireland Bishop of Tuam, Killala and Achonry Right Reverend Patrick Rooke.
Church of Ireland Bishop of Tuam, Killala and Achonry Right Reverend Patrick Rooke.

190 unmarked Achill graves to be blessed


Anton McNulty


Tuam’s Roman Catholic Archbishop and Church of Ireland Bishop will preside over the blessing and marking of 190 unmarked graves in Achill. Roman Catholic Archbishop of Tuam Most Reverend Dr Michael Neary and the Church of Ireland Bishop of Tuam, Killala and Achonry Right Reverend Patrick Rooke will preside of the historic joint ceremony at the old Achill Mission’s churchyards and graveyards.
While the names of many of those buried in the 19th-century graves are known, in most cases there is no knowledge of whose bones lie where.
The Memorial and Healing Service will take place at St Thomas’s Church in Dugort on Saturday, September 24 at 2pm, with local Catholic and Church of Ireland clergy taking part in the service.
St Thomas’s was the principal church of the Achill Mission, which was founded by Revd Edward Nagle in 1831 as part of a heavy push from the early 1800s by English and Irish evangelicals to convert and save the Irish from what were considered Roman Catholic errors, ignorance and neglect.
It provided food for the poor, whatever their denomination, before, during and after the Great Famine, and its presence in Achill resulted in the then Archbishop of Tuam, John McHale to found a Franciscan Monastery on the island.
However, Revd Nangle and his mission were suspected of being ‘souperists’ who provided food only to those willing to ‘convert’, leading to bitter conflict between the two religious groups on the island.
Revd Val Rogers, the current rector of St Thomas’s, said there was a mix of anger and admiration about Revd Nangle’s method, but regardless of history it was time to honour all who died.
He told The Mayo News the suggestion for the joint blessing came from his parishioners in Achill and he hopes it provides some closure to the community.
“There was so much pushing and shoving [regarding religion] in the 19th century, and it caused so much hurt because of the people’s suffering. The poor were looking for food and the Mission seemed to have food.” Revd Rogers explained that the relationship between food and faith became ‘a complication’.
“I suppose a fair few of the 190 persons buried in the unmarked graves would have originally been from a Catholic background before converting. We believe it is now time that Catholic prayers were also said over the graves, and it is wonderful that the two local leaders of the two churches will bless the graves.
“We will honour the efforts and decisions made in good faith by Achill people up to the present day about faith and love, food and livelihood.  We will commend to God all those buried from St Thomas’s, no matter who, why, when or how.  We will remember all of Achill’s dead, whatever their denomination and whether their bones lie in Catholic or Protestant ground,” he said.

What is souperism?
Souperism was a phenomenon of the Famine. Non-Roman Catholic Bible societies established schools in which starving children were fed, and were subjected to religious instruction at the same time in what was believed to be a programme of proselytization. People who converted for food were known as soupers, a derogatory term that continued to be applied well into the 1870s. In the words of their peers, they ‘took the soup’. Soupers were often ostracized by their own community.