ECUMENICAL SERVICE IN CREGGAN CHURCH, TO MARK THE LAUNCH OF THE GUIDE TO CREGGAN CHURCH AND CHURCHYARD17 September 1988
Homily of Cardinal O'Fiaich
A Chanóin a aithreacha agus a phobal Dé ar fad. Ba mhaith liom i dtús ama cúpla focal buiochais a rá, mo bhúichais sa chéad áit don Chanóin a thug cuireadh dom agus a thug cuireadh dúinn go léir teacht anseo inniu agus páirt a ghlacadh ins an tseirbhis paidreoireachta seo ar an fhód stairiuil seo. Sa dara háit ba mhaith liom buiochas a thabhairt agus comhghairdeas a dhéanamh leis an bheirt údar - Caoimhin Mac Mathúna agus Séamus Mac Murchadha, pé áit a bhfuil siad, a chuir an leabhar álainn seo le chéile. Rinne siad obair mhór agus tugaim mo mhdadh agus mo chomhghairdeas dóibh ó chrói.
As I have just said in Irish, I want to thank, first of all, the Canon for extending his hospitality, and the hospitality of the church to so many visitors today and particularly I thank him on my own behalf for his invitation to take part in this prayer service. Strangely enough it is not the first time I took part in a prayer service in this church, because back in 1973, I think it was, when we were celebrating the two hundredth anniversary of the death of poet Art MacCooey. He of all the South Armagh poets is the one most closely associated with this church and churchyard, because it was he of course who wrote the famous poem, Ag ur-chill an Chreagain 'se chodail me areir faoi bhron. (as Sigerson translated "In the fragrant clay of Creggan let my weary heart have rest"). We were celebrating the second centenary when we had a prayer service in this church, with a huge congregation. The sermon, if I remember rightly was delivered in Irish by Rev. Frank Blennerhasset from Howth. It was significant to have a man from Howth, because when Art MacCooey was expelled from the parish of Creggan, he took refuge in Howth. It was nice to have a Howth man coming back to celebrate the centenary. Secondly, I want to give a little word of congratulations to the two authors of this fine Guide Book to Creggan Graveyard. It also contains a lot of information on the Church itself, and on the families who buried their dead here.
Away back in 1970, I think it was, 1969 or 1970, Kevin McMahon and I went hastily around all the tombstones here. Those which were still decipherable we copied, I hope reasonably accurately, and those which weren't decipherable we rubbed with grass and tried to get the sun shining in the right direction on them to make out a letter here, and a letter there. Where we couldn't make out the letters, we had a pretty fertile imagination and were able to guess, some of them correctly, others perhaps, incorrectly. Well, at least we tried to get the inscriptions, particularly those that included place-names and personal names. Now what we did at that time, is, of course complemented and perfected in this new Guide Book. I thank Kevin for keeping up his enthusiasm for that work, and I thank Jem Murphy, for coming in as the second member of the team now, and for having the information, particularly in the historical background to so many of the families of this area.
It is good that from time to time we should think of our dead, that we should remember them, even though in many cases we would not have known the individuals whose names are on the tombstones in Creggan, because we go back quite a number of generations. As far as we can make out, the first church on this spot was built around the year 1490, so if we are all spared, maybe in the year 1990, we will come back again to celebrate the fifth centenary. At any rate the O'Neills had been moving into this part of South Armagh sometime previously during the second half of the fifteenth century. We are certain about that, but we are not certain about the year. On the O'Neill tombstone out there we put the year 1480, but that is meant to be a general time of reference and is not meant to be the exact year. Shortly after the arrival of the O'Neills, they made arrangements for erecting their first church here, so if you say 1490 we can't be very far out.
Then throughout the sixteenth century of course, in the turbulent years that followed the Reformation, it was services according to the Protestant ritual which began to be held here, rather than the services according to the Roman Catholic ritual. But it is one great, I think, example, of the friendliness that remains in existence in these parts, that both Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland members continued to bury their dead right through the Reformation period, and on down to the present day, in this quiet, peaceful, secluded churchyard. So that in Creggan today we not only remember our dead, but we should also learn from them the lesson of happy coexistence and of peaceful co-operation across religious divides. It is for that reason that I am delighted to see representatives o both congregations here today the Church of Ireland congregation o Creggan, and the Roman Catholic congregation of Upper and Lower Creggan, and probably I should hope, representatives of some of the other religious communities as well.
As well as emphasising, therefore, that Creggan churchyard received the remains from all the communities around here, it is good, I think, to recognise, when we read this new Guide Book, it was a centre for the burial of people all over South Armagh. Just on my way up through Newtownhamilton today, I was looking to see if there were many from that end of the old Creggan parish buried here, and I noticed quite a number, particularly with addresses like Camley McCullough. So that from Newtownhamilton up to Shelagh and Hackballscross, and even further into Co. Louth, into what territory is the present day parish of Faughart you will find the remains of all those families resting here. I am sure that there is hardly anyone in the church today, certainly from this area who hasn't got a great-grandparent at least, and all previous generations buried here. I noticed plenty of Hughes from Cullyhanna, they were my great-grandparents and, I am sure the same thing holds for nearly everyone here. If you haven't a parent or a grandparent you certainly have a great-grandparent, and everyone previous to that, right back probably, to the year fifteen hundred, and that gives Creggan a special place in our hearts, and a special place in our memories.
We pray today that God may have taken all these good people of previous generations to Himself, after their years, some of them happy years, some of them very sad years because it was an area that had plenty of tragedies in the past, but also plenty of joys, and we pray that God may give them now an eternity of peace, ' and joy, and love in heaven.
Go dtuga Dia agus na naoimh go léir suaimhness siorái na beatha do na mairbh atá thart timpeall orainn ins an reilig seo inniu.