RHYTHM – November -Remembering Dympna

I penned these words in memory of Dympna. November is when she died and November is a month when Christian and Pre-Christian Ireland remember those who have gone before us.

It was the poet John O’Donoghue who said ‘inspiration is always a surprising visitor’. Those who inspire are scarce and when we meet them we are bound to acknowledge them.

Dympna’s family and her beloved Mike have given me permission to share this with you. Sorry that you have to click on the link below but I was unable to get the proper layout on a FB post.



Please click on this link to read the reflection:



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Launch of ‘Open Heart, Open Arms’

St. Laurence’s DIT Grangegorman


27th of September 2016

Input of Author Fr. Alan Hilliard


I like to express my deepest appreciation to you all for your presence here this evening. I’d especially like to express my gratitude to Archbishop Martin for agreeing to launch this booklet and for his wise words. I’d also like to thank the President of DIT, Professor Brian Norton for his hearty welcome to this exciting new campus this evening. I’d like to thank my family, friends and colleagues in DIT and beyond and my Chaplaincy colleagues for your presence and support. I also like to thank the team at the Messenger Publications for their confidence in me when they asked me to put this together, their patience as I tried to draw it to a close and their editing skills. I’d like to acknowledge the vast array of people who are not in this room who have become part of this story. The University of Notre Dame, members of the World Council of Churches, Mediterranean Hope, Calderwood School of Silversmiths based in Scoil Mhuire Marino, and the people of Lampedusa and Rwanda who have allowed me to see our world differently.



The key word for this publication is accessibility. The size of the publication, its price, and its comfort (it can fit in your pocket) aim to make a very complex situation more accessible to a wide audience.  There are many people who are rightfully concerned about the plight of those who knock on the doors of Europe and are actively searching for a vison to assist them as they seek to make a difference in their communities.

There are three points I’d like to make this evening in these few short words. Firstly: the crisis; secondly, the Chalice and thirdly ourselves. This era sees the largest migrant crisis since World War ll but his crisis is a two-fold one. It is a crisis for those who have to leave their home for fear of their lives carrying a hope for a better and more secure future. But it is also a crisis because it shows our inability to respond; the crisis is as much Europe’s as it is the migrants. After the Second World War there was a desire to address the needs of those who are displaced; this is less the case now. Never before in the story of the world have we had so many global institutions whose mandate it is to build order and to work for peace and never before have we had so much inaction in the face of a crisis.

Migration is a mirror for our world today; we look into that mirror not just to see the face of the other but to look at ourselves and observe our actions and our inactions. Our present world order has created a greater divide between politics and power[1]. This current crisis is revealing that the fall-out from globalisation is increasingly irrelevant for the less well off. Furthermore the creation of agencies and bodies by political institutions is building an edifice whereby those elected to power are distancing themselves from their responsibilities.


Peter tells us about his journey from Eritrea

The ongoing raft of short term and interim fixes to every problem reveals a world order that is becoming devoid of solutions to the problems that face us. In a third level setting one cannot make such statements without evidence based research. The evidence for this is beginning to put their heads on concrete pavements this evening on the streets all about us. Further evidence of this growing gap between politics and power is that the world’s six richest countries which makes up half of the global economy host less than nine percent of the worlds refugees and Asylum Seekers[2]. Ireland’s problem is that she wants to be part of this game-playing and to do this she has to lose touch with the values and beliefs that create an alternative, more inclusive society and world. We have seen many migrant children separated from their families and bereaved on various media outlets as these years pass by. Last year we, Ireland, took one child (unaccompanied minor) into our country.

Secondly I like to bring your attention to this chalice. Some of you have seen it and know its story. A carpenter on the island of Lampedusa spent many days and nights in the past rescuing and assisting those who arrived to this obscure Italian outpost as refugees in dangerous overcrowded boats. Frustrated with the suffering and death that he witnessed he took a piece of a broken up migrant boat and he made a chalice that Pope Francis used at Mass when he visited the island on the 8th of July, 2013. It was Pope Francis’ first official visit out of the Vatican and was planned with only eight days’ notice! When I visited the island that same carpenter presented me with this chalice. I brought it back as a simple piece of timber but through a circuitous route I was led to the Calderwood School of Silversmiths where the team set about beating a piece of silver until they formed the cup which was later gilded. Last week I used this chalice at a facilitation for people of faith involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I told the story and not of the visitors objected to its presence but said, and I quote ‘it was by far a symbol of human tragedy, resilience, perilous journey and life’. The chalice for me is a cup born from human suffering but for the Christian the Chalice also offers the ultimate hope of salvation. The carpenter’s hand crafted the chalice but his hand also offered salvation to many when he reached out to take them ashore. There are many here who may not share Christian faith, they may have another belief system or may not subscribe to any one particular system of belief but I am one hundred percent sure that we can all put out our hands for other; we can all be agents of salvation. As the title of this publication suggests – if our hearts are open, it is easy to open our arms and our hands to others.


Chalice made from a migrant boat

Thirdly, and finally, maybe this is an occasion for little reflection on our own lives. A sub heading for this paragraph could also read – how those whom I have encountered have impacted on me. I’ll start with the words of E.B. White, the author of Charlotte’s Web who said that ‘luck is not something you can mention in the presence of self-made men’. There are many today who see their success as the direct result of their own efforts, gifts and talents. This is evident in many political events that are taking place at present particularly in the US Presidential campaign.

I don’t know how you view your life and achievements. Are they all self-made or is there the recognisable presence of luck, good fortune or grace? My engagement with those who have made the journey across Africa and the Mediterranean leaves me more aware of the role of luck, good fortune and grace in my life. In the words of Napoleon Bonaparte ‘ability is of little account without opportunity’. Furthermore having worked with those who extended the hand of safety to people in the Mediterranean I note that same change of heart and from this comes an overwhelming sense of gratitude for life. I see this gratitude and trust daily in students of DIT who have come to the college via a human trafficker; their gratitude for the opportunity of education and the deep trust that translates into an attitude whereby no matter what obstacle is in their way they preserve a sense of hope where they can say ‘and all shall be well’. They most likely learnt this at some significant point on their journey.


The Archbishop , The President of DIT and Alan

The question may not trouble us but it is an interesting one… ‘am I responsible for my successes or is there an element of luck, good fortune or grace?’ To appease those who again look for evidence they can contemplate research by Robert H. Frank who found via control groups ‘that gratitude makes people not only happier and healthier by also more generous towards others’[3]. The findings suggest that a greater appreciation of the role of luck, good fortune or grace makes everyone better off.

In 2012 just after the economic crash a person who described themselves as Confused in Columbus as distinct from Sleepless in Seattle wrote to the David Brooks in the New York Times asking this same question. I’ll take a few extracts from Brook’s reply:

Dear Confused,

This is an excellent question. It has no definitive answer. There were many different chefs of the stew that is you: parents, friends, teachers, ancestors, mentors and, of course, Oprah Winfrey. It’s very hard to know how much of your success is owed to those people and how much is owed to yourself. As a wise man once said, what God hath woven together, even multiple regression analysis cannot tear asunder…You should regard yourself as the sole author of all your future achievements and as the grateful beneficiary of all your past successes.As you go through life, you should pass through different phases in thinking about how much credit you deserve. You should start your life with the illusion that you are completely in control of what you do. You should finish life with the recognition that, all in all, you got better than you deserved….You’ll still have faith in your own skills, but it will be more the skills of navigation, not creation. You’ll adapt to the rules and peculiarities of your environment. You’ll keep up with what the essayist Joseph Epstein calls “the current snobberies.” You’ll understand that the crucial question isn’t what you want, but what the market wants. For a brief period, you won’t mind breakfast meetings….But you, Mr. Confused in Columbus, are right to preserve your pride in your accomplishments. Great companies, charities and nations were built by groups of individuals who each vastly overestimated their own autonomy. As an ambitious executive, it’s important that you believe that you will deserve credit for everything you achieve. As a human being, it’s important for you to know that this is nonsense.[4]

Thank you for being here this evening. Maybe these words will encourage you to read the book with this question before you – ‘wherein lies the crisis?’ Maybe you will be encouraged to be an agent of salvation for someone or maybe you might just begin to live with a greater sense of gratitude.

Available on line at http://www.messenger.ie/product/open-heart-open-arms/

[1] For a deeper exploration of this issue read: Zygmunt Bauman and Carlo Bordini (2014) State of Crisis, Cambridge, UK Polity Press.

[2] An observation made by Winnie Byanyima, executive Director of Oxfam International at the recent UN Summit

[3] Robert H. Frank Just Deserts: Why We Tend to Exaggerate Merit –m And Pay for Doing So, The Hedgehog Review, Vol 18, No. 2, (2016): 50-62.

[4] David Brooks, ‘The Credit Illusion, New York Times, August 2, 2012,

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Hospitable, Unconditional, Resilient Tess


Homily for Funeral Mass


Tess Hilliard

in the

Church of the Assumption, Walkinstown,

23rd of July 2016

tess cb

(Aunt Tess in Cathal Brugha Barracks on the occasion of her 82nd  birthday. She was born in the barracks in 1928 )

Hospitable, Unconditional, Resilient Tess

There is a saying in Gaelic which goes as follows Ní beidh a leithéid ann arís. Translated this means we’ll not see their likes again. This phrase is often bandied around but in the case of Tess Hilliard it rings true. There’ll not be her likes again. She was nurtured, conditioned and influenced by a culture that we only catch sight of in books or in TV documentaries. Passing through Tallaght Hospital the other day I noted an extract from an exhibition about inner city Dublin which highlighted that in 1921 one house in Henrietta St had over one hundred residents. I cycle or walk through this street once or twice a day and I think that there are far less than one hundred on the entire street now. These were difficult times and it is not for me to infiltrate them with a rosy glow but it still formed people. The Dublin of 1928 that Tess was born into is very different to the Dublin of today. The things that formed you were based on survival, kinship and community. There was little choice and one had to make do. Everything was shared. I don’t know if it was my father or Johnny that wore a new suit to the cinema which they were attending with the latest girlfriend. The only problem was that one wore it and the other had bought it. The one that bought it had to impress their girlfriend in their working clothes while looking at the girlfriend of the brother staring starry eyed into her new catch that was resplendent in the latest and newest fashion statement. Great personal resources were employed to make life liveable. There was a lot of struggle but the days seem to have been lifted with constant laughter, good hearted slagging and a few jokes thrown in.

On a recent visit to Rwanda to study how those who were caught up in the horrible genocide survived and overcame the social and psychological impact of the murder of over one million people by neighbours and friends I learnt a lot about life. For those who don’t remember this awful event occurred when one group of people slaughtered another group of people because of their tribal and racial origins. I remember one person saying to me that governments or those in power develop strategies and we (the people) develop tactics to deal with their strategies. Tess was a master tactician. Whatever government, family, neighbourhood or life threw at her she always had a tactic to deal with it. Maybe some of the younger generation find it hard to grasp exactly what I am saying so I’ll put it another way. Recent reports on China show that one of the reason for the slowdown is the lack of management skills. When this matter was investigated further they noted that the younger Chinese had very little initiative and very little spontaneity. The researchers said this was due to the fact that they were from one child families and they were more used to doing what they were told that using any initiative; the type of initiative that many like Tess in the past used to survive in a large family that interfaced with neighbours and community in a very open way.

Tess was on the other side of the scale to Chinese management. Influenced greatly by the family she grew up with and the family that was later to  surround her she became a master tactician ensuring at every stage that there was not just enough but plenty for everyone; that included food, time and care. I was in Rome a few weeks ago and I brought back little replicas of the cross that Pope Francis wears around his neck. His cross his engraved with an image of the Good Shepherd carrying the weakest lamb over his shoulders. I gave one of these replicas to each of Tess’s children on Wednesday night when she died. I could think of no greater image for this wonderful lady as that of the Good Shepherd carrying the weakest lamb on her shoulder. Tess’s shoulders were broad and God knows at times they had to be.

There are three things in Tess’s life that I would consider to be indelible marks of God on her. You see we are told in scripture that everyone has a uniqueness that we can recognise. It is part of the deeper self-created by God that marks us out as His unique creation.  When I think of Tess I think of these three qualities that merge into one and make her who she is. These qualities are alive in the readings we just heard and resonate in her spirit. To remember them I ask you to think of Ben Hur and focus on the last word of the two H for Hospitality, U for Unconditional love and R for Resilience.

The first reading talks about hospitality. Abraham welcomes visitors that he could have turned away. He insisted that they bathe their feet and sit at his table to eat of the best. Unbeknownst to Abraham the strangers were angels of God who bestowed a blessing on them leading to both himself and his wife becoming leaders of a great nation. Not unlike Tess who has created her own great nation with twenty five grand-children and twenty five great grand-children. Tess’s hospitality was way beyond the provision of food, drink and rest which I will now expalin. I read a definition of Christian hospitality recently which said it was ‘entering into the chaos of another’s life’. Tess had the ability to step into the chaos of many of our lives. She could calm it and reassure us when we were spun out from being in the midst of that same chaos. Remember though that the hospitality of Tess brought her blessings. Today when things have become increasingly privatised and antiseptic and gated we are setting up for an explosion of depressive states, hospitality brings blessings for each of us; choosing the other way brings only smugness and isolation.

Secondly Tess’s unconditional love has to be stated. Love today comes in many forms. There is an awful lot of conditional love and it is at the heart of dysfunctionality and manipulation. I will love you if you are this that or the other. Or I will love you if you do as I command or want or need. This form of love is not really love; it’s a form of game playing and it is both inconsiderate and destructive of others. Tess’s love was unconditional; totally and utterly. Why so many you, her grandchildren and great grandchildren, found her refreshing was that she gave you a break from the game playing of conditional love that goes on in the world. She just looked at you and loved you. This is a love that it not of this world and it is modelled on God’s great love for us which is totally unconditional. The energy for this love is revealed to us in today’s second reading which tells us that if we want to love like Tess we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal. Computers, i pads and PlayStation, even the best of cars are replaced and are replaceable but unconditional love of someone is irreplaceable; that is why we are so broken hearted. Unconditional love gives you the freedom to be yourself regardless of how that self is at any point in time: broken; confused; angry; broke; upset or depressed. Conditional love will make us worse leaving you with blame and guilt. Unconditional love weaves way forward for your life and fills you with hope. Conditional love builds prison, unconditional love gives us open space where we feel warmth on our back and a spring in our step. That is the ‘U’.


The ‘R’ stands for resilience. I work in a third level institute, a university that tries to prepare people for the challenge of the work place. There is always a buzz word around to describe what the ultimate educational outcome is and the buzz word at the moment is resilience. People who can take a hit and then get on with it.  People who if they hit a water main or a cable don’t wait for the boss to come but can get on with what needs to be done. People who if a contract is lost can put it to one side and work harder on the next one. People who if there is difficulty don’t end up in a heap but can integrate the trials and tribulations of life into their person and become wiser and more mature. People who don’t spend their time back-biting or blaming to give themselves an elevated sense of importance but people can define themselves by their own vision and not the faults of others. When I listen to all the academics wondering what it the latest publication on resilience I often think they’d be better off getting people like Tess in to talk to the students. Tess and others like her are resilience on legs. Like Martha in the Gospel and like Tess too we have to choose what it the better part and not be victims of circumstances. Thankfully we are surrounded by great examples of this.


What we do today is put mortal remains to rest. A mortal remains that carried a great treasure; this treasure lives on however as it is the uniqueness of Tess that we pray dwells in God’s eyes and heart for eternity. Her Hospitality, Unconditional love and her Resilience are born of her spirit which was deeply nurtured by her belief in things unseen but of which we are given glimpses in the person of Jesus whom she loved. May our deep sense of loss not lead us to despair but lead us to contemplate the well of richness from which Tess drew all her life and may we aspire to bring her values and those of the Gospel to our world. Amen

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Matt Kiernan (30th Anniversary)

30th Anniversary Mass for Matt Kiernan

Uilleann Pipe Maker and Musician

Parish of Christ the King, Cabra,

Saturday the 16th of July 2016

john sheahan

 (John Sheahan, a frequent visitor to Matt’s house on Offaly Road)

There is a story told of a set of twins who when they started school confounded the teachers; one was a complete moaner, the other never stopped showing appreciation for all that was done for him. They had the same DNA, the same upbringing so counsellors, psychologists and every other  -ologist was totally dumbfounded. They set up an experiment, a controlled experiment as they call them. One child, the moaner, was placed in the room with the best and latest of everything including computers, tablets, i-watches, PlayStation. The other child, well it was a bit of a problem to find something that no child could possibly be happy with and all those with -ologists at the end of their name chose to give him a bag of horse manure!

When the time for observing the experiment came along all the –ologists went to the room where the moaner was and sure enough he was giving out socks about battery life and not having the latest model. Then they went to the next room where the child with the more positive disposition was exploring the bag of horse manure. They thought he’s be giving out and complaining that his twin brother was given the latest electronic gadgetry – but against their expectations there he was, up to his elbows in horse manure, a big smile on his face saying ‘there has to be a horse here some-where!’

What has this story got to do with the 30th anniversary of an Uilleann Pipe Maker, life here in Cabra and more importantly I suppose, todays’ Gospel? I spent many a day in Cabra up to my elbows in horse manure. Once a year my grandfather ordered a load of this steaming pungent mass which arrived on a truck or a horse drawn carriage. We spent the morning unloading it and the afternoon laying it out in drills that were to be soon planted with seed potatoes, cabbages, onions, scallions and lettuces. Much to the horror of some of the Dublin neighbours; potatoes, cabbages, onions and scallions and lettuces were planted in the front garden. The garden was a fertile place and as I walk through these streets today I see all that fertility capped with concrete so the car can be tucked in off the road.

I was telling this story of one of my colleagues in Bolton St. He is an engineer and he once worked for CIE. He told me that when they built Heuston Station the foundations ran deep and much of the soil was dredged and moved up to the area that is now called Cabra. That soil was rich and nutritious silt from the bed of the River Liffey. That deep rich black soil always mesmerized me. That information made me realise why my grandfather’s garden was so rich and bountiful. He never took it for granted though. He helped the soil remain strong and vibrant with an annual delivery of horse manure.

Cabra was a fertile place, a place of growth and energy. While my grandfather nurtured many of us thorough his good organic vegetables and apples Matt Kiernan nurtured the world of music though his unselfish service of the Uilleann pipes, pipers and Irish traditional musicians in general. He gave all at a time when Uilleann piping could have disappeared. Like Abraham in our first reading Matt extended hospitality to everyone who crossed the door for a tune or to consider buying set of pipes. It is hard to believe that to play a tune back the years one had to find a home to play in as pubs were not open to musicians playing on their premises.  As Eileen O’Brien often reminds us in her matter of fact Tipperary way ‘sure what’s all this fuss about pubs wasn’t it the homes that were the homes to Irish music in the past’. Indeed when a young couple were ‘walking out’ before they were married they passed down Offaly Road and they heard music coming from number 19. They ventured up to the door to find five musicians with their heads down into tunes. So impressed were that couple that they bought the house next door and Maura Hackett and Tom Meehan were to become lifelong neighbours and great friends of Matt. Leaving the house that day Tom said to his fiancée as he looked at number 21 which was for sale ‘If we get this house we’ll always have music’. Never a truer word was spoken.

Both my grandfather and Matt were not given to neglect. When it came to others and the service of something greater you simply got on with it. In the spirit of today’s Gospel they choose the better part. I don’t know if my grandfather ever heard Matt play the pipes but I could surmise that he benefited from my grandfather’s produce because I know that the Meehan’s were beneficiaries of his garden and if it ended up in Maura’s kitchen I’m sure it ended up providing sustenance to Matt. Before ever the European Union thought of cross border trade, items crossed fences and hedges at a rate of knots in this little area of Cabra, apple tarts, jams, heads of cabbages, a bag of spuds, a few onions knotted together, a loaf of brown bread and even on waiting day (usually a Thursday for those waiting for the wages to come home on a Friday) the odd toilet roll, a cup of milk, a bit of carbolic soap or even a few scones to alleviate the wait. This trade was conducted without penalty or tax. These actions were inspired by duty, love and habit.

Matt’s commitment to the pipes and piping was part and parcel of that spirit. To do the better thing is nearly always without thought to title, reward or affirmation. Matt’s only delight was that the music was passed on. He saw the door was closing on things traditional and he stuck his stubborn foot in to hold open a chink of light. As evidence of this one of the greatest delights of his life was when Seamus Meehan, the young lad next door decided to take up piping. He saw not just a happy child but a future for what he believed in and loved.

Matt or Mattie was many things; a father, a Garda, a craftsman and a musician. We focus on the last two today. In the spirit of today’s readings we conclude by noting that hospitality bears greater fruit than the individualism and protectionism that is an ever growing reality today. Our second reading tells us that we are not possessors of the greater things but mere stewards and arising from that is the responsibility to steward these good things into the future without thought of oneself. This demands a generosity of spirit that was part and parcel of who Matt was. There were and are many like him. We now know if it wasn’t for Matt’s stewardship piping may not have achieved what it has achieved today and we can be but in awe of the spirt of those that have fostered this revival.

The Gospel tells us that Mary chose the better part. For us to choose what is good, for us to be able to sit at the feet of greatness we have to acknowledge that others have played their part. To allow others sit at the feet of greatness today the task falls on us all to lift the concrete capping that is placed on so much creativity and life and let the good things flourish. Mattie may be buried in Holy Ground in Ballivor but thankfully all that he believed in and loved was not capped with concrete.

A final thought as I race through childhood memories of this church brimming over.  As I and as we note the decline in attendance and a growth in busyness about many things, communities of faith have a lot to learn from the revival in piping. What is at the heart of revival? What is the energy of revival? What is the price and cost of revival? If these questions are to be answered one could do worse than start with Matt or Mattie. The better things do not come about by accident but they can be lost by neglect and can even be lost in the presence of good intentions.

I thought it appropriate to finish with an extract from a prayer by Archbishop Oscar Romero the Archbishop of San Salvador who was martyred for his people in 1980:

This is what we are about.

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master
builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.


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Missals and Migrants

Migrant’s graves in Lampedusa..no names just a number….

lampedusa graves

A piece I  had published in this months ‘FURROW’ contrasting  Irish Church action on the translation of the Roman Missal and it’s inaction with regard to the migrant crisis…

Click here for article: Missals and MigrantsV2

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Before their Time (Dympna O’Sullivan)



On Saturday the 2nd of April there was a tribute to Dympna O’Sullivan in the Old Ground Hotel in Ennis. I couldn’t attend but these words came my way that day


before their time v2

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Letting Others Live Again

I wrote this piece as a reflection on my visit to Rwanda a few years ago..it has a Lenten/Easter theme..not to be enjoyed but reflected on…..Dedicated this Easter to my good friend Virgil Elizondo who died recently…




A knock came to the door late at night. ‘Who is there?’ asked one of the sisters. ‘Jeanne’, was the reply. ‘How could this be?’ said the sister to herself – only the day before Jeanne had been killed along with five other girls. The soldiers came to the convent and the militia beat the girls to death with rocks. This happened on May 18, 1994, over a month since the genocide started. The next day the soldiers came back and they instructed the militia to bury the girls’ remains.

The sister who opened the door thought she was dreaming. Jeanne was dead as far as everyone was concerned. What’s more, she had been buried. Obviously the wounds had left her heavily concussed. Her hair was matted with clay and she collapsed as soon as she entered the room. More than likely, her body had been thrown on top of the others in the makeshift grave. Maybe the rain had washed away the soil or maybe even the convent dog who had been behaving mysteriously trying to attract attention had scraped away at the soil freeing Jeanne from the weight of inevitable death.

Her head was gashed and her left arm was badly damaged from the beatings. A trip to the hospital was out of the question; every day the soldiers and the militia called by to ‘finish off’ those who were still alive. The sisters brought Jeanne to a safe place. They cleaned her wounds with sterilised water this was the only First Aid equipment available.

D&L Rwanda

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St. Patrick’s Day 2016 – St. Patrick the Migrant – Sacred Heart Messenger March 2016

cross patrick


Here is an article I wrote on Saint Patrick which focuses on the fact that he was a migrant:

St Patrick the Migrant

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Three Wise Men ‘Like’ the Birth of a Child in Bethlehem.

Three Wise Men ‘Like’ the Birth of a Child in Bethlehem.




Think of it in today’s terms. A child is born, to save themselves the bother of visiting, to overcome the discomfort of sitting on camels for a few weeks, the three wise me ‘Like’ the birth of a Child in Bethlehem. How un-newsworthy and more importantly how insignificant for the wise men. Even for those of you who may not believe in God or who do not in any way subscribe to Christianity you cannot deny the layers of humanistic truth that exist in these wonderful ‘stories’.

No amount of ‘likes’ or ‘loikes’ can capture the engagement of arriving, seeing, smelling, gazing, thinking, reflecting, kneeling, worshipping, giving and receiving. It is a simple story but it has so much truth for our age.

Ireland was renowned for years for ‘visits’. It was not uncommon to arrive home from school to find a neighbour in the house having the chat and dinner would be served around them. God knows why they needed to be there but most likely the ‘chat’ was about some issue that wasn’t going away but the tea and company helped bid it adieu. This is type of thing that a person might seek medication for today or even sign up for counselling for. These visits were simple Epiphanies; moments of revelation that made a difference and brought about a necessary change. Tommy Tiernan has a funny sketch when he talks about the last World War when Europe was being blown apart; Ireland, he reminds us was undergoing ‘an emergency’. What was that emergency he observes… ‘we had no tea’.

Our culture is shifting and changing so much that it is time to name what is being lost. ‘Liking’ is not the same as ‘Living’. 2016 is a new year and maybe it’s a year for less ‘liking’ and more ‘living’ or even continued ‘liking’ but not at the expense of ‘living’. Neither is texting a substitute for talking. I’m a great fan of social media and I see its value but I don’t think it is meant to substitute for finer things.

For many years I looked after Irish people abroad. I set up programmes for elderly Irish in London who were isolated due to difficulties and the complex isolation that emigration brought about. It’s funny but I see the same isolation here in Ireland among elderly people. For people who aren’t on FB or Twitter and who don’t in any way tack into cyber connectedness they have fallen off the face of the earth. For many today by the need for connectedness and their social obligations are met with a ‘like’. This is not enough for a society to flourish.

Maybe I’m old fashioned and maybe I am part of an institution that goes back long before the middle ages but even last night I heard word of someone whose father passed away suddenly; I always try to drop in to extend my sympathies before I send a text. Sometimes due to geographical distance I have to depend on cyber space but not when I pass by the door of the house a few times a day or even a couple of times a month. What is going on that is so important that we don’t have those few minutes any more. Years of experience have shown me that dropping in oneself or even dropping in a note is so appreciated.

I think back to what I remember in 2015. Times when for various reasons I was ‘grounded’ and couldn’t get around as much as I liked. It’s not the  ‘likes’ I remember so much as the visits. Thank you. When it comes to elderly people today arriving, seeing, smelling, gazing, thinking, reflecting, kneeling, worshipping, giving and receiving can have its challenges but sitting with people brings about Epiphanies. Some times its telling us things we don’t want to hear – there are always a few Herods lurking around in us and in others and sometimes we can be graced by wisdom and insight. The emergency in World War ll was no tea; the emergency today is little time for tea…the kettle is on.



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‘Mercy and Migration’ Sacred Heart Messenger Magazine January 2016

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