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Diocese of Cashel, Ferns and Ossory

Bishop’s Letter – April 2017

In this month’s letter our Bishop ruminates on the contents of a Diocesan Magazine from 1972 and the concerns of parishioners in what was a turbulent time nationally.



Dear Friends


A kind colleague recently intrigued me by giving me a copy of the Ossory Ferns and Leighlin Diocesan Magazine for September 1972.

As I delved into its contents, I realise that it appeared at a significant moment in my own life. That month I entered secondary school at Wesley College Dublin, where indeed I encountered several young people from this diocese who have remained part of my life to this day.

I have been recalling my own memories of the transition from primary to secondary education among sixth class pupils in our own schools in recent times – few in the diocese at this stage must be unaware of my ‘theft’ of my teacher’s car keys on my last day in national school! By September 1972 our country was but months away from commencing membership of the then EEC, a step we took in exact parallel with our neighbours in the UK.

So what was happening in the diocese in 1972 … And my apologies that these comments are combined to Ossory Ferns and Leighlin as in those days Cashel Waterford and Lismore had a different bishop and a different magazine.


There was perhaps a greater apparent innocence about local life. Parish summer bus outings to exotic destinations like Dublin and Butlin’s and Powerscourt were all the rage. Dublin seemed very far away, so far that it was considered unreasonable to expect a harvest preacher from Dublin to reach Carlow by 0930 in the morning. Rhododendrons were admired rather than feared in the grounds of rectories. The advertisers in the magazine, which incidentally cost 67p per year by post, were advertising varieties of flour that ‘made baking a pleasure’. The weather was of constant interest, although contributors’ experience of it across a fairly small area were strangely different. In Abbeyleix in the run-up to the August fete it did not rain at all. But the rector of Killabban reported that ‘the weather this year has been bad for everyone, and in particular the farmers’.

The magazine happily records the weddings of many people whom I now know as more senior members of the diocese. Our ideas of courtesy and political correctness have changed mightily. Women took not only their husband’s surnames but indeed their Christian names and the magazine constantly referred, as it were, to Mrs John Smith. However, in a way that would seem strange now, the clergy did not refrain from more personal comments. The rector of Abbeyleix declares it to be ‘well known that this parish is blessed with the prettiest girls in the country. Unfortunately “foreigners” from other parishes are allowed to come and take them from us.’


But, rain or no rain, there were deeper shadows lurking. Many experiences of loss and pain. The magazine speaks far more directly of the medical situations of individuals than we would now permit. The parish of Ferns had been hit by the death in an air crash that summer of some leading businessmen who had been among those killed when a London to Brussels flight crashed just after takeoff. The group had been on their way to Brussels as part of the pre – EEC – entry business conversations. That crash remains etched on my mind as that same day I had flown to London with my father, and some of those who lost their lives after changing to go on to Brussels were on the same plane as us.

Violence in Northern Ireland was also very much in the minds of people here. A native of Castlecomer who had moved north had lost his fourteen year old son in a violent incident in Belfast. The rector of Castlecomer went so far as to write – ‘Belfast is a part of the world which God created and pronounced to be good’. The rector of Wexford, pondering events in the North, said – ‘violence has militated against many human rights’. In Stradbally girl guides from Belfast had based their summer camp in the school. They came from troubled areas of the city, they attended the steam rally and even did community service in the town by tidying litter and washing cars. As they left the rector noted – ‘there were tears and they asked if they could come again’. In Kilkenny there was a Peace Walk and open air service in the castle grounds. The Dean noted with approval how a Dutch visitor to the area in the midst of such events had been impressed by ‘the involvement of the Church of Ireland clergy and people in the community’.


All in all, the magazine is a typical mixture of the joyful and the serious, the mundane and the grave. It depicts a largely rural community living through important national and world events. There is a certain timelessness about its message, as we in our time continue to be anxious about Brexit and the prospect of a hard border. Human nature and needs do not change all that much, and the magazine makes clear that what mattered most to people was good, steady, cheering pastoral care in the midst of the uncertainties of life. Then as now a main task of the church was to build a sense of community and to make people feel the small incidents and events of their lives mattered to more than themselves. It would be interesting to know what a reader of this present magazine issue might make of us say in 2062.


In 1972 there didn’t seem to be such an obsession with great schemes and projects … There was much more of an emphasis on patient continuance in well doing. In our time ‘the big idea’ has often become something of a distraction from the basic task of just ‘getting on with it’ … We seem to depend upon the adrenaline surge that comes from the production of endless strategic plans and vision statements. But, from time to time, a diocese does need to energise itself and widen its horizons by engaging with some human need in the wider world.


By an amazing coincidence, Bishop McAdoo was writing in his September 1972 letter of the importance of supporting Feed the Minds, the agency which seeks particularly to empower women by improving literacy levels in various regions of the African continent. He talked, in the context of the harvest season, of the importance of food for the mind as well as for the body, of the hunger for reading material, of the importance of the written word in building community and culture.


Many of you know that in the 2016/17 period our diocesan support of Bishops’ Appeal has been directed towards projects in Congo and Ethiopia partnered with Feed the Minds (!) and Mothers’ Union. By way of a special effort to bring the diocese together in terms of raising both awareness and funds in the ’17 harvest season, I shall be visiting 66 venues all over the diocese in the autumn to preach a mini – sermon based on a text from every book in the Bible, and all related to the theme of the empowerment of women particularly through literacy. I hope this will be a chance to meet many people, and to attract some wider public interest, in a reasonably novel and imaginative way. Full details of all this will be published ere long.


Again we wish Martin Hilliard every blessing and happiness as he takes his leave of Kells with Inistioge after Easter. We will all miss his pastoral contribution, his steady wisdom, his sound preaching characteristic of an experienced teacher, and his delicious humour. The diocese will be very much impoverished without his beret and Marlyn’s trombone! We hope they will be truly happy in a new chapter of life back in Dublin.


Strive to keep Holy Week, the Week of weeks, well so that Easter may dawn joyfully for you with a real sense of a journey competed. And for those joining me by Stradbally lake at Easter Day dawn, enter by the main gate of Stradbally Hall and please note the service commences at 0540.


Michael Cashel Ferns and Ossory.