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Retiring pilgrim priest leaves rich cultural legacy


LASTING LEGACYFr Frank Fahey pictured at the start of the Tóchar Phádraig pilgrim walk, with his beloved Ballintubber Abbey in the background.  Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Áine Ryan

A priest and true pilgrim of the Catholic Church, he has put Ballintubber Abbey and the ancient pathway that St Patrick trod to Co Mayo’s holy mountain, on the international map. And whilst Father Frank Fahey’s retirement is well deserved and overdue it has come as a shock to his devoted parishioners, by all accounts.
His rich legacy and ministry in this parish – replete with a history so central to the development of the church from Celtic times –  has been encapsulated by Archbishop of Tuam, Dr Michael Neary. Speaking to The Mayo News yesterday of Fr Fahey’s ‘enthusiastic and generous’ ministry since his ordination in 1973, he observed: “In his ministry he very successfully highlighted the things that do not change and at the same time responded positively and constructively to things that change and need to change. Central to his priestly ministry was the whole idea of pilgrimage. He promoted very effectively the Tóchar Phádraig from Ballintubber Abbey to Croagh Patrick.
“At a time when people tended to be rather dismissive of a sense of history and of the past he succeeded in highlighting the glories and the graces of the past and applying them to the present as we endeavour to chart a way forward into the future.”  
Continuing, Dr Neary said: “His ministry to young people was deeply appreciated by them as he helped to prepare many of them for Confirmation during retreats at Ballintubber Abbey. He has developed Ballintubber in ways that will enable future generations to appreciate the rich heritage which is ours and enable us to go forward with hope and confidence in the present. Visitors to the abbey acknowledge the enormous work which he has done to embellish the ancient abbey and create a centre for prayer and retreats.  All this was done in addition to his pastoral work in the Ballintubber area of the parish.”
He also said it was ‘testimony to his generosity of spirit and priestly dedication that he has continued to minister faithfully long after he could have retired’.
“I take this opportunity to thank Fr Frank for all the work that he has done, the example he has given and the service that he has provided. I congratulate him on his achievements and wish him a very happy retirement and the good health to enjoy it,” Archbishop Neary said.
Father Fahey, who is now in his eighties, is retiring for health reasons.

Passionate advocate
AS curate of Ballintubber since 1987, Fr Frank Fahey has passionately advocated for the importance of ‘the abbey that refused to die’ – it celebrated its 800th anniversary in 2016. He has also spearheaded the resonance and relevance of its spiritual legacy and culture for the community, for retreatants, old and young, from around the country, as well as tourists from around the world. He was instrumental in developing the Celtic Furrow interpretative centre which explains the complex narrative of the assimilation of the Celtic seasonal festivals of Imbolc, Bealtaine, Lughnasa and Samhain into Christian traditions.
Significantly, the adjacent Scioból facilitated lots of musical and cultural evenings for the local community with the annual Passion Play, held in the grounds of the abbey, becoming renowned nationally for its pathos and contemporary message for a society in the throes of a crisis of faith after revelations of institutional abuse. .
The culmination of his tireless work bore fruit in November 2019 when then Minister Michael Ring announced a €2.6 million grant for the development of a cultural and heritage centre at the east wing of the abbey. This funding facilitates the development of the abbey as a Pilgrim Path hub and a key destination  for pilgrims around the world.

In his own words
“The notion of pilgrimage as a human concept resonates with all nations and peoples. There is something in the human heart – in every tradition and religion – that searches for meaning and wholeness.” - Fr Frank Fahey