Séamus Ahearne: Preparing to say goodbye to Rivermount…

‘A serious house on serious earth it is, in whose blent air, all our compulsions meet, are recognized, and robed as destinies. And that much never can be obsolete.’ Church Going. P Larkin.


The children must be bad sleepers. The parents have them out, and ready for school, so early each morning. They seem to be gone for lessons by 6. I wonder should I inform the ‘cruelty people’ or call in Tusla? Surely two week old babies shouldn’t be thrown out to class at dawn. It is possible that I am jealous too. Can I even admit that one to myself? The swans and myself were very friendly but when the cygnets came, I was abandoned. My heron is still around but very casual. He barely acknowledges my passing presence. Let them be. I will do a Charlie (prince) on it;  talk to the trees.

A journey to Clonmel

I travelled down a country today (Clonmel) for a funeral. A very special person in our family history (Mary) had died. I went across country from the Kilkenny area. The back roads were unfamiliar. It was good to get off the motorway. The forty shades of green were grinning everywhere. The variations in colour; of fields and bushes and trees and hills and flowers and hedges and houses and gardens, were quite delightful. I had almost forgotten what this ‘other world’ looked like. The world of the country. I passed along by Kilsheelan and thought of the graves. My father and myself used to visit the past and tidy up the graveyard. I thought also of my mother boating it across to school in Kilsheelan, when the bridge had been blown up. I thought of Kilcash and Sliabh na mBan and the memories of many people up there. Those views stirred my soul when I was very young.

Mary’s funeral

And then I arrived at Ss Peter and Paul’s in Clonmel. It felt good to be down in the pews. As priests, it is essential to switch places. Like the baby swans, we go back to school and learn and feel what it is like. The jumping up and down at Mass is very strange. It is as if someone wants to keep us awake. But I was happy to soak up the memories of Mary and the history of the family. They were special always in our family stories. On my way back, (I shouldn’t but did), the phone rang several times. One man asked me If I would do his funeral if the facts turned out as the prognosis indicated. I replied that I would be happy to do it. I immediately had to correct what I had said!

The leaving of Rivermount

I have been very nostalgic for the past week plus. The date (12th June) for the Augustinians to leave Rivermount has been published. The day is rushing at us. The thirty-six years are concluding.  In 1986, the Augustinians came to Rivermount. Larry Forrestal had gone after establishing the parish. (He came at the end of 1974). John McNamara had also been a big presence. Willie King and Mick Cleary continued the earlier work. For the Augustinians, Richie Hughes came first of all and then Finbarr Fogarty. I was thinking that I had gone into Edinburgh at the same as the Augustinians were coming here. I have managed 25 years here. All of us have loved our time. Practice may not be uppermost in the minds of the community but heart and welcome, and banter and faith is rooted in the mess of life. We adapted. We have been given so much. The easy comment of 24/7 applied but we received so much. Office hours priesthood was totally irrelevant. Everything had to be done differently. The easy formula of Ritual and Book was useless. The honesty and spontaneity of people was extraordinary. The Word became Flesh. We were blessed. The word pastoral comes to mind. This business of priesthood is forever pastoral. We can never escape into the office or hide in the sanctuary. Most of ministry is now outside the building. We are pioneers and missionaries. It is an adventure of imagination and creativity. The Spirit has to be given full rein. We have to be very humble.

Pastoral life

A serious reflection on being pastoral is needed. We can become absorbed with changing times and administration and forget the core of ministry. Humanity. Warmth. Welcome. We have to be immersed in the lives of everyone. This place (Rivermount) was a home. God was at home. I was recalling for myself something of what pastoral means with a little story. When we moved into Currie Balerno in Edinburgh (1986), I recall the first evening. We were strangers and felt strange. We missed those we had left. We were wondering. There was a knock at the door. Two ruffians were there. Joe Farrell (our oldest man) answered the door. The two hobos started making demands. Winos probably. Joe got frightened and ushered them out. They went. A half-an-hour later they returned. It was Keith O’Brien and Davy Gemmill. The archbishop came back with fish and chips for everyone.  I think he dined out on that story for a long time. But it was the touch of humanity. The kindness. The sense of fun. The welcome. That mattered. I always remembered Keith for that. (We kept in touch for years even when he was banished into exile). We laughed at the story for years. But it was the pastoral touch that mattered. Indeed, we were launched by that simple pastoral touch.


Who needs all this raiméis of Synod? Talk. Respect. Listen. God help the leaders of these times. They don’t have the time or energy to do the simple ordinary things. They have to be bureaucrats and administrators. The Governance is so tied up in details, that simple ordinary ‘fish and chip’ moments with chat and basic laughter aren’t available. I was a Provincial some 33 years ago. It was so different then. The travel was big. From Dundee in Scotland down to Hythe in Kent with all the in-betweens thrown in.  The car was the office. But there was time to talk.  The bureaucracy was much less. I don’t know how anyone now can take on the office of leadership these days. They can’t do right with doing wrong. They are totally submerged with details and with covering their backsides. Oh for ‘fish and chip’ moments. Simple ordinary chats. Drop ins. Talk. The Church officially is challenging everyone with Synod talk and this approach. And yet what do we still have? A Tony Flannery file where no-one would talk and never did. This is not Gospel. Or Christian. Or the way for the Church to create a new world.

The Three Degrees

I was confronted by three women recently (L, C, and C) and then attacked. I was totally intimidated. A mere man had no chance. They wanted to know what was happening the Augustinians in Rivermount. They wanted to know why the Augustinians were leaving Finglas. They asked questions only women would ask. How many Augustinians got in touch to check how the local team were? What about those who had been in Finglas and knew the scene – did they check on how everyone was? I defended everyone as best I could. I told them that we don’t carry on like that. We don’t ring up or call to see how everyone is. We don’t indulge in this ‘feelings’ carry on. The women were totally disgusted. They then shook me with an all-out onslaught. How can such people be involved in caring/minding/feeling/pastoral life if they don’t have the insight or instinct to apply the same to one another? The women described what the life in ministry means. They even confronted me with how they saw my life spent in the community. I eventually gave up and I admitted that they had a point. I should go back to them now and tell them when we had that rather wild and crazy funeral some five weeks ago – many people,  some Augustinians and quite a few local priests got in touch to check how we were……  

The Wags

I have a last thought. Coleen Rooney and Rebekah Vardy have slugged it out in court. There was the wonderful sting done by Coleen which was rather smart. I have done a few pale versions of that myself! But it is the utter stupidity and frivolity of it all that is striking. Why can’t people talk without rushing into Court where they are stripped naked as human beings and where they throw dung at one another?  The only players in the game – are the law folk. It is not the wags or the footballing husbands. These are only props. It is nonsense. It is sad. It is stupid. Why does it happen? Because again – people can’t talk. Or don’t. Why does the utterly ridiculous show with Amber Heard and Johnny Depp end up in Court? Why can’t someone bang their heads together and remind everyone that there are no winners and only losers? The legal folk are the only real players and the only ones who win. The last word then still applies to all of us in  the only way to live; the only way to ‘run’ relationships; the only way to be a church; to be a priest – is to talk, to listen, to respect. To have a fish supper together! Or whatever but something. The Maternity hospital debate was illustrative. There can be no possible room for interference by Church people! That too is sad. It has come to this. We can hide away in our bunkers and adapt the mentality of the bunker or we can live a new life where talking and caring and real humanity flourishes. Let’s greet the future with bold faces and happy minds. It is still great to have the privilege to be ministers of the Gospel. Rivermount is an inspirational community and was for us. For which we are grateful. We shared.

Seamus Ahearne osa

PS   Indi is aggrieved. This new ACP website didn’t publish her photos last week!  She told me that she hadn’t time to talk or write. She has a party on Sunday. Her cousin Lilly’s First Communion.

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One Comment

  1. Paddy Ferry says:

    Séamus Ahearne: Preparing to say goodbye to Rivermount…

    Séamus, I read your Preparing to say goodbye to Rivermount piece sometime ago and keep thinking on how I would reply. Now, I am worried that if I do not reply tonight it will drop off the home page never to be seen again. This new site leaves a lot to be desired, I fear.

    Well, the Augustinians leaving anywhere is always a very sad thing. When I last spoke with some of your old friends from Dundee they were still missing you all, even after all these years. Also, more recently. speaking with friends from Currie and Balerno their memories are much the same. They all speak of great times, a golden age, infact, for their parishes. And, now, St. Joseph’s in Sighthill is much the same. The warmth of Augustinian pastoral care –and little things, like readily available eye contact –is always mentioned. The importance of readily available eye contact was mentioned to me, infact, just a few days ago. So, I can absolutely understand the passion of those women giving you a hard time.

    And, you are so right when you say;

    “This business of priesthood is forever pastoral.”

    What a shame that that philosophy is not shared universally.

    Of course, your Keith and Davie story is what touched me most and brought the memories flooding back. They were my friends for many years, my very good and close friends. They were both good priests and good men. We all now know from Brian Devlin’s book the nature of Keith’s personal weaknesses. But nobody will ever convince me that he was a bad man. A senior Redemptorist friend who had served in Edinburgh and who had returned from Europe for Keith’s funeral said to me as we stood at his graveside that while 5% of Keith was weak, the other 95% was wonderful. That I can accept.

    As our archbishop we lived in happy times in our archdiocese. As someone who led our ecumenical outreach as chair of our Archdiocesan Ecumenical Commission in our diocese for 28 years, it was wonderful for me to have a bishop who would support, encourage and thrust me. He trusted lay people. Keith certainly did not advocate a clericalist view of church. We were happy. Those were happy days.

    We were recently discussing Parish Renewal in our archdiocese which was a program written and led by my Donegal compatriot, Johnny Doherty CSsR and introduced by Keith shortly after he became our archbishop. Our Ecumenical Core Group and which eventually became the official Commission grew directly from Parish Renewal. We all remembered the energy and the enthusiasm it brought to our priests and people. Wonderful memories! Those were the days my friends, we thought they’d never end, ….

    Good luck, Séamus in whatever now awaits you. Please always keep sharing your words of wisdom.

    Shalom from Edinburgh.

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