Séamus Ahearne: Portlaw and Finglas cultures, online liturgy and Indi in Holy Week

‘Busy old fool, unruly sun, Why dost thou thus,

Through windows, And through curtains, call on us?’

(John Donne)

The music of nature:

Does nature know it is Easter? There is a lavishness, an extravagance, in the blooming. (Flahulach/flúirseach). The buds are bursting into life. Every bush and tree, has put on its Easter clothes. I didn’t notice it happening but see it now, when it has happened. It is beautiful. Nature and Easter are synchronising. The empathy is striking. I drove towards Waterford on Easter Monday morning. The road was deserted. But the cherry blossom along the road was very provocative. All the trees were talking. They chat underground but are also very communicative overground too, as they splash their colours exuberantly. The clouds were playfully chasing the bright sun. Shadows darted in and out. The dance went on.

As I reached Portlaw, the world came alive in welcoming back the stranger. The hills and fields were talkative. The homeland of the past was hospitable. I walked into the Church and the plaque of Little Nellie waved at me. A woman sidled up by me and asked how the herons were? I was vague until she then mentioned Indi. Clearly Indi and Máire O’Byrne’s photos and the herons have wandered as far as Portlaw. I only supply the scaffolding!


More music:

There was a funeral for Kitty. She was well into her nineties. I knew her husbands. I recalled from a very young age when Kitty arrived in Curraghmore House  (Lord Waterford’s place). There was great local interest when she got married to Mikey and then when her husband died and another two unlikely old fellows lined up in competition. The story was amusing and intriguing. The village of country life, wondered which bike and what tree – was the rendezvous each night. We lived in those innocent times, delighting in the emerging romances. One Tommy got there. The other Tom accepted an honourable defeat. And Kitty smiled on. She was a lesson in gentle persuasion and the careful graciousness of women in the ways of love. The men were a little awkward but very competitive. As youngsters we were being taught the intricacies of relationships. I had worked with Tommy painting for some time. So I was learning another view of life.

The clash of cultures:

The Champions’ League. The Premiership. The Cup. Man City and Liverpool fight it out. There are other battles going on. Not only in sport but also in the Ukraine. Some very holy folk even want to fire a missile to visit the Kremlin or to shake up Putin’s bunker! What a vicious thought? We had our own local high stakes in a Liturgical duel. Young James Whelan was shot dead. His funeral was on Wednesday. He was decked out in his casket. It was very ornate and golden hued. His little fingers were wrapped round several scapulars in the box. He came to Church with horses and bikes screaming rubber. The Church Liturgy went on. The reporters hid in various corners and felt quite intimidated. There was a severe clash of cultures. Prayers. Mass. Scripture. Hymns. The symbols. The silence was loud. Was something or anything heard? There definitely was the shock of death. God was lurking in the space and teasing. The grandiosity of the drug world was highlighted in all its superficiality and destructiveness. There might have been a hint of grace in the midst of chaos.


More cultural contrasts

But on such an occasion – I was reminded of Augustine’s comment: A funeral is for the living. A mother. A sister. A brother. A child. The Church still has a place. That place is vulnerable and fragile. Yet another and a different Liturgy started afterwards. The bikes and the dance and the horses and the balloons and the champagne. The jazz music was beautiful. I don’t think we can ever marry the two cultures together or join the parallel liturgies. But ‘there is a place’ (pace Liam Lawton). The incarnation has to happen in the strangest ways. I was very surprised and quite moved at the number of people who made contact to check how I was. Many priests did this too which really was supportive. I felt humbled and grateful. (Many emails arrived also – several full of praise and some full of outrage at the church and at the priest!)

Online Liturgy:

As I was leaving the graveyard in Portlaw, several people spoke to me of watching all the ceremonies from Rivermount online. I recognised very few and masks didn’t help. Moreover, it was 63 years since I left Portlaw! All I could hear then was that the tentacles of Rivermount are far-reaching. In the Parish, it was as if Holy Week came on us unexpectedly. I suppose our communal heads are crowded and clouded with the thought that make us feel like ‘dead men (women) walking’  in the Parish. The miracle and marvel of what people did in organising; in participating; in preparation was most impressive.

The going out online was very special. It is always demanding and challenging. It doesn’t just go out ‘live’; it has to be ‘alive’ too. It shouts at us to rethink and remake Liturgy. The visuals. The camera angles. The chatter of those present and those online has to be a coalition of faith experiences. There is no room for rigids (like the lorry or even robotic liturgical ministers). Everything has to be adapted and flexible. We reach across the world but also the outreach is to the many, who aren’t familiar with coming to Church. It is true; it can seem very passive but most times, our Church Liturgy is very passive anyway. We have to be imaginative. God has to break into our world. We have to be artists of words; artists of theatre; artists of colour; artists of staging; artists of communication. Like Heineken beer – we have to refresh those parts that other beers don’t reach or something like that. We have to stretch the elastics of liturgical practices. But surely God in Christ, is at home in our world. The Word is made flesh.

Young Indi

Words and sentences are pouring out of her. She gives orders. Her daddy, she tells him that ‘he is annoying her.’ In the car, she tells her ma and da, that they don’t give her enough room for her legs (even though she has the smallest legs). She calls her Teddy – JJ which is betimes a brother or a sister. I have no idea what she heard or experienced about Lent or Holy Week or Easter. It was like a mixed-grill (she described) when she rang me at night. She had Lent down like a story of little seeds growing. She saw plants and buds and said that these were similar to herself; she was growing and learning and hoping and delighting in every day. That was Lent for her. She was very confused with Holy Week. What is Holy? She asked.

She has no problem with God. The game of hide-and-seek is her everyday sense of fun. God is here. God is there. God is hiding. God is smiling. God is in the daisies and the dandelions. Is on the Knockmealdowns and the Comeraghs that are faraway some days and come closer other days. Is in the birds and in the fields. Is in the dolls and in her friends. Is everywhere. Then she says:  Is that holy? Of course it is, I tell her. She had palms (Palm Sunday) and cheered. She can grasp that one. The cross and crucifixion is too much. Easter day wasn’t just eggs – it was a celebration of life and hope and love and everything that is promised for a revealing future. She wants to go bed early so that she can wake up to something different and new every day. Now she wants to look at her books. I am dismissed.


Seamus Ahearne osa   19th April 2022.

(As I was writing, a family arrived at the back door with a passport for signing.  Martin had two women with him. One he was divorcing. The other he intended to marry. One child pointed out that those two made him. The other child said nothing. Martin and myself go back a long way. His brother was shot dead. His uncle was shot dead. )


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One Comment

  1. Jim Mc Hugh says:

    Séamus Ahearne: Portlaw and Finglas cultures, online liturgy and Indi in Holy Week

    Courage of heart and holiness, beneath Indi’s Easter Bonnet.

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