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Diocese of Cashel, Ferns and Ossory

The Venerable John Murray retires

‘A celebration of great and fruitful steadfastness’

A Service of Thanksgiving for Ministry

shared with the people of the Parish of Rathdowney Union and of the Diocese of Cashel & Ossory

On Sunday 6th April 2014 (Passion Sunday) in St Andrew’s Church, Rathdowney.

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Clergy robed pictured with the Revd Tim Irvine on the occasion of his installation as Vicar of Kilkenny Union of Parishes at St Lachtain’s Church, Freshford on Sunday 16th March 2014.
The Revd Canon Susan Green, the Revd Canon Patrick Harvey, the Ven. John Murray, the Revd Bill Boyce, the Very Revd Tom Gordon, the Revd Canon Stella Durand, the Revd Jenny Crowley, the Revd Tim Irvine, Ms Maureen Lanigan, the Revd Andrew Orr, the Very Revd Katharine Poulton and Ms Susan Botha.

The weekend of 4th – 6th April was one of particular significance for the Murray family as John, archdeacon of Cashel, Waterford, Lismore and Offaly and rector of Rathdowney retired after over 40 years of service and ministry.

Two events marked the occasion.  On the Friday evening, the parishioners gathered in the Hall for a splendid meal and representations in honour of John, his wife Irene and their family.

On Sunday afternoon, a service of thanksgiving took place in St Andrew’s Church Rathdowney to acknowledge John’s devotion to parish ministry and the wider diocesan position of Archdeacon.

It was then ‘All in an April Evening’ that St Andrew’s Church was full from chancel to gallery in the presence of the Bishop and with clerical colleagues and ecumenical friends that the Revd John Murray took his final service commencing with the processional hymn ‘Stand up, stand up for Jesus’, the procession of clergy being led by the churchwarderns Howard Coburn and Philip Draper and which was followed by special greeting words of welcome from the Rector.


The music and singing were led by organists Ruth Wallace and Laurence Bacon.  The lessons were read by Fr Martin Delaney, parish priest of Rathdowney and the Revd Andrew Orr, Rector of Tullow and Archdeacon designate, with the Gospel read by the Archdeacon of Ferns, the Ven. Chris Long.  The prayers were led by the Revd Canon Patrick Harvey, Rector of Abbeyleix and Killermogh and Fr Jim Murphy parish priest of St Canice’s Church, Kilkenny.

In his pulpit for the final occasion, the evening sunlight was coming through the window and highlighting the Rector as he addressed his congregation.  He began by saying that his family’s association with the Dioceses of Cashel, Ossory, Waterford, Leighlin, Lismore and Ferns goes back as far as 1940 when his father was curate in Waterford. His own introduction to the diocese was in the ‘50s when he spent four years in Kilkenny College. He returned to the Diocese in 1970 when he was ordained for the curacy of Carlow, Killeshin and Cloydagh before moving to Limerick as curate in 1972.


In September of 1970 he had my first introduction to Rathdowney. As curate to Archdeacon Desmond Patton he was sometimes asked to fill-in in other parishes in cases of vacancy or illness. Occasionally he stood in at Rathdowney and had his introduction to Rathdowney with Donaghmore, Castlefleming and Rathsaran in turn. The institution of the Reverend Richard Wilson put a stop to those weekly excursions, although little did he think that h would be back after five years and remain for nearly 37.

In 1977 John was appointed to the Union of Rathdowney, Castlefleming, Donaghmore and Rathsaran (and prospectively to Aghaboe).

To summarise: he was confirmed by Bishop Phair, ordained by Bishop McAdoo, was curate to Dean Walton Empey while Bishop Caird was in Limerick, was instituted in Rathdowney by Bishop Armstrong and two years later by Archbishop Armstrong.

He was made Canon, Treasurer, Chancellor and Precentor in turn by Bishop Willoughby – and all was well until the day that he was summoned to the Palace in Kilkenny and to bring his wife with him! They were both worried. What had he done?

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Valerie took Irene for a walk in the garden and John was ushered up that fine flight of stairs into the study. There was no small talk or beating about the bush. ‘John,’ said the Bishop, ‘I want you to be my archdeacon’. It wasn’t a suggestion or request – just a statement of fact. ‘Now, we’re taking you both out to lunch.’ That was it.

Two years later, just after the Synods of Ossory and Cashel had been united and the untimely death of David Woodworth, John became archdeacon of Cashel as well and that’s how he came to have the possibly longest title of any archdeacon in the Anglican Communion, Archdeacon of Cashel, Waterford, Ossory, Leighlin and Lismore. And it seems now that he may have been to only one to have that title!

He wished Andrew well in his new role and both archdeacons are privileged to be working alongside a bishop who is full of go and new ideas.


John has worked, as Archdeacon, with four bishops – each different in his own way. During that time he has presented 45 rectors for institution, four times in two parishes, three times in seven, twice in six, one in four and none at all in three –  those parishes being Fiddown, Baltinglass and, of course, Rathdowney. Also He said, he has had the privilege to present and stand alongside at least eight colleagues at their ordination and deacon or priest.

But at the centre of the lives of both John and Irene has been the parish of Rathdowney, sharing in many occasions with the families of the parish – both joyful and sad as well as a lot of other events. (116 baptisms, 35 marriages and an equal number of away fixtures, about 114 candidates prepared and presented for confirmation and – unfortunately the larger number of 152 funerals.) They were made welcome everywhere.

The National School has also been a very important part of our lives and it has been fascinating to watch as the children grow and develop move on and, after a number of years return as parents themselves.


Irene became Diocesan President of the Mothers’ Union. She had previously been Diocesan Secretary and Enrolling member of the local Branch here – and has been with a few intervals ever since. Latterly she has been the Diocesan Press Officer and a Diocesan Trustee. Her time as President took her to many functions in almost every corner of the Diocese.

Their children grew up here and had their early education just up the road. This was also their home for many years. They now have their own homes and families but they will probably find it difficult when they hear of us talking of ‘going home’ to realise that it is not back to Rathdowney.

The Archdeacon concluded these reminiscences with a reference back to the Gospel and warned of new incumbents with great ideas to wake up a sleepy parish. It is wiser to that he (or she) will learn a great deal more from the people of the parish than they will ever learn from him. John soon realised that there was far more knowledge and common sense in the people of Rathdowney than he could hope to have gathered in a few years in College.


They certainly came here with a few new ideas. Some were treated with caution or even suspicion and some were actually accepted but at the end of the day the Murrays have been extremely happy in Rathdowney with many good friends and with whom it is hoped the contact will be retained. He wished th parish well in finding a replacement and hope that he or she will find as much joy and fulfillment here as John and Irene have.

A celebration of the Eucharist followed and at the conclusion of the service, the Bishop had a few pertinent words to say before John gave the final blessing and the everyone emerged from the church and greeted John and Irene in the grounds before heading into the hall for refreshment and fellowship.


 ..and the previous Friday:


On Friday 4th April, to mark the imminent retirement of Archdeacon John Murray from full-time parochial ministry and ‘the Murrays’ departure from Rathdowney a cheese and wine reception was followed by a splendid meal. The Hall has never seen the likes of it – the decorations, the layout and settings of the tables crowned by the balloons matching the colours of the place settings, all prepared and served by Sheila Maher and her ever efficient staff gave the impression that one was entering a five star hotel. After the meal there was an introductory speech by Raymond Galbraith in which he traced the rector’s progress from the time of his ordination in 1970 up to the time of his appointment to the Parish of Rathdowney Union. He spoke in glowing terms of the contribution of ‘the Murrays’ to the life of the parish and of their involvement in the wider life of the Diocese.

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A presentation of a composite picture of the five churches in the Parish and a wallet of notes to the rector was made by Mr Eddie Thompson. Laura Neale and Kate Handcock then presented a basket of flowers to Irene. The Bishop gave us some amusing anecdotes about the life, work and attire of an archdeacon in times past (particularly their wearing of gaiters as part of their formal dress)

As well as thanking the present one for his help and advice during the past eight years since he had become Bishop. John and Irene both spoke and thanked the Select Vestry and the parishioners for their support, loyalty and friendship since they came to Rathdowney and for the generous presentation that they had just received. They included thanks to the Parish Priests and Curates of Rathdowney and neighbouring parishes for their friendship and cooperation over long period of time and hoped that their successors would continue to enjoy similar relationships with them and the local Roman Catholic community. Rathdowney had, they said, been their home for almost 37 years. Their children had grown up here and our grandchildren would remember their early visits here – not forgetting their visits to the splendid children’s playground just up the road. Irene in particular thanked the members of the town and surrounding area for their great support to the various charities with which she had been involved.

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Mr Eddie Thompson then spoke about a scouting trip which he, Arthur Dunne and Charlie Mitchell had made to St Michael’s Church in Limerick to look at a young curate with a view to bringing him to Rathdowney as rector. They were, he said, entertained in the Curate’s House afterwards so they were the first people from Rathdowney to get a cup of tea from Irene Murray. He also spoke of the care that they had given to the people of Rathdowney during their time here, especially to those who were sick either at home or in hospital. Many of John and Irene’s friends from their former parishes of Carlow and Limerick, including Bishop Walton Empey, John’s former Dean and rector while in Limerick, were present and were delighted to share in the occasion. The party continued some considerable time after the formalities had been brought to an official conclusion – the party after the party!

Very generous presentations have also been given separately or severally from the Mothers’ Union, former pupils of Rathdowney National School, the present pupils and the staff past and present.

The Rector’s final service as rector of the parish was held in St. Andrew’s Church on the following Sunday afternoon (–). The Bishop very kindly waived his right to do even the ‘Bishopy things’ during the Eucharist so that the service might truly be a Murray ‘Swansong’. The local congregation was joined by many from around the diocese and from the local Roman Catholic community who had come to wish ‘the Murrays’ well prior to their departure.

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