Death of Canon Michael Cassidy.
Canon Michael J Cassidy, a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Andrews and Edinburgh and a native of Co. Mayo, died yesterday morning, Tuesday, April 8th, in Corstorphine Hospital in Edinburgh. Fr. Cassidy, as he was known to all, was one of our most loved and respected priests.
Michael Cassidy was born in Brackloon, Swinford, Co. Mayo on 26 August 1929.
He studied for the priesthood at St. Peter’s College in Wexford. He was ordained by the Bishop of Ferns, Bishop James Staunton on 06 June, 1954 for the Archdiocese of St. Andrews and Edinburgh. This was a time when many Irish priests were ordained for British dioceses.
Upon his arrival in Scotland, Fr. Cassidy took a special interest in the needs of the Irish families who had settled in Scotland. He also took a special interest in the needs of the tattie howkers, squads of seasonal workers who came to Scotland each year from Ireland – mainly Donegal and Mayo – to work at the potato harvest. The living conditions of these seasonal workers were primitive and Michael Cassidy’s voice was constant in calling for their improvement. However, he was concerned not just with the plight of the emigrant Irish. Throughout his priesthood he truly reached “out to the margins” long before we had heard of the term. Travelling people and gypsies would come to Fr. Cassidy’s parishes to have their children baptised, make their First Holy Communion and be confirmed. Priests in need were welcomed to live in his parish houses during their time of need.
In the mid 1960s, he was part of a committee which established the Edinburgh Irish Centre in the city. Although the centre closed in the 1970s due to financial difficulties, Fr. Cassidy continued to support those of us who continued to host Irish events in Edinburgh.
By the 1970s the number of Irish families coming over to Scotland to work harvesting the potato crop had dwindled. Instead, Irish agents turned to young unemployed men in towns across Ireland. Their working and living conditions were even worse than those experienced by the families who worked as tattie howkers in earlier decades. There were housed in bothies with no privacy and non-existant sanitation; were forced to work long hours and, at the end of the day, became virtual prisoners for the night. Michael Cassidy decided this practice was unacceptable and had to end. He recruited the help of Jack Butterly, a journalist working for the Evening Herald in Dublin. The scandal came to a head in June 1971 with the plight of two young men, John Ryan from New Ross in Co. Wexford and John O’Brien from Knocklong in Co. Limerick. While Butterly was in East Lothian researching his story , he and Michael hatched a plan to organise the escape of the two young tattie howkers from their bothy on June 16th. When the story broke next day in the Irish and Scottish papers it lead to a huge public outcry. Eventually, following talks which involved the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Paddy Hillery, the Irish Embassy in London, the Scottish Office in Edinburgh and Fr. Michael Cassidy, the practice of exploiting young Irish emigrant workers was brought to an end. Just a few years ago, Michael explained to me how his friend from home, John Healy – the Irish Times’ “Backbencher” had advised on enlisting the help of the press .
I have been privileged to have known Michael Cassidy as a friend for over 30 years. He was a wonderful priest. Many , many families, Irish and Scottish, have experienced his exceptional pastoral and spiritual care, especially in times of need. However, he was first and foremost a lovely human being – a naturally kind and generous man and full of common sense. He did not have a judgemental fibre in his body.
His last parish was St Margaret Mary’s in Granton in Edinburgh where he was parish priest since 1976. He continued to live in the parish house after his retirement in 2004 and, though he has been in poor health for a couple of years , he continued to live in St. Margaret Mary’s until he was admitted to hospital four weeks ago.
We do not the details of his funeral arrangements yet but I do know that he will be going home to his final resting place in Co. Mayo.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dhílis.
Death of Canon Michael Cassidy.