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HAPPY RECOLLECTIONS OF CARDINAL TOMAS O FIAICH
by
Most Rev. Dr. George Otto Simms, Dublin

Reproduced, with the Society's permission, from the 1991 Journal of The Creggan Local History Society

......Our first meeting was in Newbridge, Co. Kildare. We were together in the old garrison church for an evening with The Book of Kells. I had been asked to give a lecture to the Kildare Historical Society and Father Tom, as we called him then, came over from Maynooth to propose a vote of thanks. I well remember his friendliness on that occasion. He, with his specialised historical knowledge of the glorious early Irish period of the Christian Church, was always most generous in encouraging amateurs in their study of a subject which was dear to his heart.

The Cardinal was a great encourager also, when he saw among the young, budding historians, who showed signs of sharing his interest in the history of the early Irish Church. I remember, how generous he was with his time when my daughter, Katharine, who was with us at the See House in Armagh during the seventies, was invited to Ara Coeli to discuss with the Cardinal details about an article she was preparing for "Seanchas Ard Mhacha".......

.......The last time I was with the Cardinal, we had been invited to speak together one evening in March 1990, in Kells, Co. Meath. It was the occasion on which the Lucerne facsimile of the Book of Kells, reproducing in full colour the entire Gospel manuscript was presented to the town of Kells, thanks to the generosity of many interested subscribers. The Cardinal was invited to speak about the background of the Book's history and tradition. I was asked to follow with a talk about some of the details within the two covers of this beautiful reproduction. The Chairman suggested to us both that each of us might speak, say, for about half-an-hour. The Cardinal spoke for a whole hour! Everyone was fascinated. I confess that I had to be stopped after I had followed up with another full hour's talk. I hope we were forgiven for our enthusiasm. Sadly we did not meet again after that delightful evening. I remember John Ward, his devoted driver, brought the Cardinal back to Armagh at quite a late hour that evening and I admired Tom's wonderful energy and resilience, as he moved among the audience with a cheerful word for everyone. Soon, after that, he led the pilgrimage to Lourdes, the last journey he was to make in this world.......

........Friendly evenings with music, stories and socialising at Ara Coeli are among the memories of Armagh. Tomas was a wonderful host. He put us all at our ease and we found ourselves immediately at home. Madge, the welcoming housekeeper, provided splendid back-up from the kitchen. There was open house at Ara Coeli.......

......When I left Armagh and the time for my retirement came, no one could have been kinder than the friendly Cardinal. He wrote a lovely inscription in the handsome volume of St. Oliver Plunkett's letters which he generously presented to me. As he handed this book to me, he pointed out the number of the page on which I could find an early trace of "ecumenical thinking" even in those days of struggles and sufferings.

A lovely message of greeting in Irish for me and Mercy my wife is printed beneath a photograph in the 1979 "Seanchas Ard Mhacha", opposite page 429. Looking at it again, I give thanks to God for our friendship and pray that grace and peace from our heavenly Father may be with him forever.




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