Séamus Ahearne: ‘The curfew tolls the knell of parting day, The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea, The ploughman homeward plods his weary way, And leaves the world to darkness and to me.’ (Thomas Gray).


On Tuesday 9th April 2024, the Dáil assembled to elect a new Taoiseach. There were many speeches. Leo Varadkar spoke in his farewell words as Taoiseach and did it well. But some speakers lacked dignity or respect for this solemn occasion. Democracy exemplifies this in the peaceful handover of leadership, and Tuesday was a very precious day. It was sacred. We can agree or disagree with the change of cast. We can quibble over how it all happens. But respect is essential. I think there is something almost transcendent about such an event. Simon Harris had become the leader of Fine Gael. He was now due to become Taoiseach. The votes were there. There was no need for hurling bitterness across the floor or for throwing the predictable across the Chamber. There would be lots of time in the future to robustly question what he might do, and how he might do his job. This wasn’t the occasion for spewing out the belittling political clichés. It was undignified. Those who disgraced the moment really, also disgraced themselves.


Raphael painted ‘The School of Athens.’ He did this some 523 years ago. Characters who were a source of botheration to us in our youth, appeared. Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Pythagoras, Archimedes, Heraclitus, Zarathustra and many more were celebrated. The leaders of philosophy, theology and literature were portrayed. We all have our heroes. And Heroines. Now I know that if I had continued to play hurling Waterford would have won several All-Irelands. But it wasn’t to be. My hero – Tom Cheasty expected me (as a fellow parishioner of Portlaw and Ballyduff) to carry on his tradition. The truth of course is I wasn’t good enough but that didn’t deter the fantasy of ambition. We should never allow the truth get in the way of a good story! Raphael made news recently despite those 523 years since he painted the fresco. The ladies of Trinity College felt aggrieved that no woman found her way into the painting. So they re-enacted the painting with the women of today. The idea was good.

We do have something similar in our religious lives: The saints occupied a rather prominent place. The hagiography was extraordinary. The Martyrology (Prime) was a very strange diet for Morning Prayer. I think we have moved away from much of such nonsense. The haloed kingdom weren’t too often relatable to our lives. We are sometimes amused with the young ones who are taken over by fashions and brands and designer goods and singers and models or even footballers. (Their heroes/heroines). But we all need to paint our own fresco of the heroes and heroines of our lives. The real ones. The extraordinary in the ordinary. It is kindness. It is love. It is gentleness. It is inspirational. It is beauty. It is wonder. It is the real poets who wake up our spirits. Paula Meehan did a good version of this on Tommy Tiernan last Saturday with her storytelling. But thanks especially to Raphael. Thanks also to the ladies of Trinity. And thanks to the many Paula Meehans in our lives!


After two funerals recently, I heard the same comment. “You are the best priest I have ever met.” What could I do but smile? If this is the ‘best,’ what were the rest like? The reality is that many people never meet a priest these days and don’t expect much from us, if they do meet. Basic kindness does a lot. Funerals are the ideal occasion for us to be pastoral and caring and human. And to be surprising. However, some of us have problems. We are so overwhelmed by funerals day after day that we can become forgetful of the fact that every funeral is unique, and every person and family matters. That story is special. We can get lost in the formality of Liturgy and forget the foreign nature of Liturgy and how cluttered it can be with archaic and churchy language. Revelation can happen, but we have work to do with people who aren’t familiar with Church life. Revelation must happen. The onus is on us for these occasions. We have to explore and exploit these moments. God has to be released and revealed on every such occasion. But that is challenging. So I end this by saying: The Best Priest! Most unlikely. I am very aware that for some others I am the worse priest. In fact, I turn up at St Margaret’s for various Sundays and I am told by Nicky (or Grumpy) that I am the worse priest that ever came to the Church. Or I listen to some women coming out of Mass at Finian’s last week. They said that Fr Eamonn was ‘gorgeous.’ I think they were trying to grigg me! I sometimes tell a few of them, that they are damaging my reputation in what they say: But their response is this one: “You have no reputation. You have damaged it yourself a long time ago.”


Indie told me that she didn’t have the time to be writing for ‘old people.’ She is convinced that the readership of the ACP is full of ancients. I take that personally!  How she got this idea I don’t know. But she claimed that she had read Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. And the line that struck her was: ‘Fully many a flower is born to blush unseen and to waste its sweetness on the desert air.’ She has concluded that she wouldn’t waste her sweetness. There’s confidence or arrogance for you. It is however easy to provoke her into talking. She loves the greening of the land. She is in awe of the waking of the buds on the trees and bushes. She is thrilled at the chatter of the birds and believes she too has something to say to them. She is intrigued by the wind and cannot understand why she can’t see it or grasp it. She also is amused, when she tries to chase  the shadows and can’t catch them.

Seamus Ahearne osa     16th April 2024.

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One Comment

  1. Paddy Ferry says:

    Séamus, that lovely first verse of Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard brought back a lovely memory for me.

    But, first of all, I must agree completely with what you have to say about that scene in the Dáil. It was indeed a shameful and unfortunate spectacle.
    I think Brendan has also spoken about it.

    And, I have to say there are still those in your Scottish parishes who would say that you are the best priest they ever knew.

    We did part of Gray’s poem for our Inter or Leaving, I can’t remember which now.
    But, of course, it’s that wonderful first verse that we remember for ever.

    And, so, to my memory. Having left the library one evening in Earlsfort Terrace during my student days I was sitting relaxing and deep in thought in the otherwise empty foyer just outside the Great Hall — now the National Concert Hall — when I heard footsteps coming along from what was then the anatomy department. It was Prof. Don Hingerty, Professor of Biochemistry, whose specialty was endocrinology and metabolism. He stopped in front of me in this quiet, deserted evening space and began: “The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
    The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea, The ploughman homeward plods his weary way, And leaves the world to darkness and to me”.
    And then departed with a simple “Good evening, Mr. Ferry, take care of yourself.”

    Now Don Hingerty was no ordinary professor. He was such a brilliant teacher — one of the two best teachers that I ever came across — and an absolutely lovely human being. His part of the course came quite near the end of the university year, late April, I think when time for revision was of the essence. And his lectures were so excellent that you only needed good notes from his lectures and nothing much else was required.
    My final academic memory with him was in my biochemistry oral which was out in Belfield.
    Such was the nature of the man that he asked me what I would wish that he would examine me on and such was my self confidence following his excellent teaching that I told him that he could decide. I still remember well that he examined me on carbohydrate metabolism and it went really well.

    So, Séamus thank you for stirring that memory of Don Hingerty one quiet, spring evening in Earlsfort Terrace. I had not thought of it for years.
    Some may remember him as an Irish Rugby Internationalist who did something special in a match against England.
    I wonder is he still with us, probably not. But I am so happy to share these memories tonight of a really wonderful man.

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