Cathedral of the Assumption, Tuam
At certain times throughout the year we become very conscious of our identity as Irish people. It may be All Ireland Final Day or St. Patrick’s Day but whatever it is it causes something to stir inside us. The morning of the All Ireland Hurling Final last year ‘Sunday Miscellany’ carried the story of a young Irish lad in London in the late 1960s. At that time radio was not developed in the way in which we experience it today. This young lad was walking along a London street and saw a man with a transistor radio glued to his ear standing beside a poll which, as a form of aerial, improved the reception. As the young lad was passing he said that he heard the unmistakable voice of Micheál Ó Hehir. It was All Ireland Hurling Day and the young lad asked the man with the transistor if it would be possible to join him. The young lad relating the story recalled how during the National Anthem he experienced a choking loneliness. Looking at the other man he had never met before he noticed a tear rolling down his cheek.
On St. Patrick’s Day we remember in a special way those who are away from home. In the past those who left our shores did so out of necessity. Many of them sent back money to help us in the past when things were difficult at home here in Ireland during the 1950s and even more recently.
Today we see people from other countries, Poland, Brazil and Eastern Europe, on Fridays and Saturdays in Post Offices sending money back to help their families at home. This should be a clear reminder to us of what our own people did for so long. In many instances they cut back on making provision for their own future and did not pay into pension funds. In many cases today age and health problems have caught up with them and they find themselves in very difficult circumstances, with failing health, appalling living conditions. Some of them have become overly dependent on alcohol and are now too embarrassed to make contact with their families. Their plight is one of deep seated loneliness.
While one may criticise the Irish Church for many things, one area in which it has a very noble track record is in the case that we have given to our emigrants. Irish priests, brothers and nuns went with our emigrants to the different cities in England, United States and Australia and ministered to our exiles in these places. Those of our exiles who had fallen on hard times had been neglected by successive Irish governments. As a result of the way in which the Church has highlighted their plight the government is now making funds available to address the lot of these people.
Today those who are leaving Ireland are doing so largely out of choice, in the past there was no choice. Those who are leaving today are for the most part well educated and capable of holding their own in any society across the world. The mobility of our age has helped to take some of the pain of loneliness away. And while many of our emigrants are very successful in their careers, I believe that we have a responsibility for those who have been less fortunate. I believe that faith is an important part of our history and identity as Irish people. That faith finds different forms of expressing at different times. Today I would hope that as we have discovered a new found prosperity in our country that there will be that generosity to share it with those who are less fortunate. On this St. Patrick’s Day I would like to think that our exiles that have fallen on tough times might benefit from our generosity and good will.
Another way in which our faith can be given expression today would be in terms of welcome, support and encouragement for those who are now coming to our shores from other lands. We would have very short memories indeed if we did not empathise with them and understand the difficulties with which they cope as they endeavour to integrate into our society.
While today the Feast of St. Patrick will be celebrated in towns and villages across the country and across the world wherever Irish people happen to gather. It is important however that we recognise that were it not for St. Patrick then we probably would not be here in our Cathedral today. Faith is becoming more and more of a challenge as society attempts in subtle ways to push God out to the verges of life. On this St. Patrick’s Day we thank God for the faith that has been passed on to us by those who have gone before us. We pray that we will be faithful to that tradition and will be happy to pass it on to future generations.