HOMILY FOR THE TUAM 400 CELEBRATION
I welcome you all as we celebrate 400 years of the place of which we are so proud. Welcome to the Mayor of Tuam, members of the Dáil and Seanad, members of Tuam Town Council and to all who form part of the congregation here in our Cathedral week after week, welcome to those who have come home to celebrate with their families and friends and welcome to all who are on holiday in the area at this time and to those who have made Tuam their new home.
On the 30th March, 1613, King James I granted Tuam a Royal charter. This year marks the 400th anniversary of Tuam as a trading town with an established Town Council. It is only fitting that we would celebrate this historic marker and acknowledge the extraordinary achievements of the people of Tuam, as a great place to live, work and visit. When King James I of England granted Tuam a charter the town was laid out as a market town to its present plan with all the streets converging on the square. The Royal charter also enabled Tuam to send two representatives to Parliament and allowed the town to set up a formal local authority which was the fore runner of the present day Town Council.
Tuam Parish Pastoral Council in consultation with the Old Tuam Society have been involved in organising a series of events to celebrate the Ecclesiastical history of Tuam as part of Tuam 400. It is a very fitting weekend in which to celebrate given that the Feast Day of St. Jarlath was celebrated last Thursday evening with a Mass in Cloonfush, the original site of his Church. This was followed by a walk retracing the footsteps of St. Jarlath from Cloonfush to the site of the first Church in the town of Tuam at the present St. Mary’s Cathedral.
How does one capture 400 years in a homily? It is like the problem of Maria in the Sound of Music: how do you catch a wave upon the sand? How do you hold a moon beam in your hand?” I suspect you do not and you cannot. Let me simply peer swiftly into the past, then spend sometime on the present and finally focus on the future.
Firstly, I am intrigued by the past, a past that you know more intimately than I. Last year a magnificent work “Atlas of the Great Irish Famine, 1845 to 1852 was published. It is very significant the number of references which we find to Tuam in that Atlas. I believe that tells its own story about the difficulties which our ancestors endured and the resilience which they displayed. Indeed a worrying feature of modern thought is a manifest arrogance on the parts of many commentators towards the efforts of previous generations. Life is not simple. Ascertaining even basic facts and understanding them in context can be difficult enough. Assembling and interpreting evidence of outlook and motives is harder again. The task of the historian demands not only talent, therefore, but moral and spiritual qualities as well.
Of all the early Christian saints special mention must be made of the Diocesan Patron, St. Jarlath. He founded his own monastery at Cloonfush at the beginning of the 6th century. He influenced many illustrious visitors including St. Brendan of Kerry, St. Colman of Cloyne. Brendan advised Jarlath that his end was not to be in Cloonfush, despite his great age, “to sit in his wagon”, and the place where the wheel of the wagon would break would mark “the spot of his resurrection – and the resurrection of many others on the last day”. So, St. Jarlath arrived in Tuam and founded his monastery, which, almost 6 centuries later, became the centre of the Archdiocese of Tuam. In 1152, at the Synod of Kells, Tuam had become one of the major ecclesiastical centres in Ireland and was named as one of the four metropolitan areas along with Armagh, Dublin and Cashel.
Over the years the resilient and ‘never say die’ attitude of Tuam has responded magnificently, to the challenges whether they were political, social, economic or religious. An example of that resilence may be seen in the 1970’s when C.I.E. moved to discontinue the rail service to Tuam and the knock on effect for the Sugar Factory, Erin Foods and all the families involved. The Tuam Town Commissioners, the Chamber of Commerce and Community Council all combined to face the challenge and were supported in a powerful way by Archbishop Cunnane who was remembered for his courage, social conscience and his efforts against the forces of centralisation.
As we look at the Tuam today we see a centre which prides itself in education. Few towns would have beside a Cathedral, St. Jarlath’s which celebrated its bi-centenary a few years ago, Mercy Convent 1846, Presentation Convent 1849, Christian Brothers 1861. I believe that the focus on education enabled Tuam to cope with the various changes and challenges and to do so in a very positive manner. Education is a centrally transforming force in any society. So much has been invested in education here in Tuam by successive Governments, by Religious Orders and by the Church with the result that it is now recognised as a great centre of learning and something of which we can all be very proud indeed. This has led to an openness, a welcoming attitude and an attempt to reach out and bridge the gap between the different economic classes. I believe that Tuam has never received the credit which is due to it in this regard. It has illustrated the way in which people of varying backgrounds can co-operate to ensure that human and Christian values will receive the attention they deserve. In that respect I would like to applaud the work of Tuam Town Council, the Chamber of Commerce, the public representatives, who have provided the lead in so much of this. In this whole area we should not underestimate the important role which education has played, the Christian Brothers, the Sisters of Mercy, the Presentation Sisters, St. Jarlath’s and McHale College Vocational School.
The Tuam Herald newspaper has played a central and significant role in establishing and maintaining the identity of the town by reporting and recording events past and present. Congratulations to the Editor and staff and all associated with Tuam Herald.
What of the future? As we look to the past and consider the present, I believe that the future for Tuam is encouraging and inviting. There are facilities which make Tuam an attractive place to live. When people are proud of their place they will develop it with industries and employment opportunities and many developments have taken place here in Tuam. Over the years Tuam has contributed very significantly to the political, religious, sporting and social life, not just the town itself but also at national level where great Tuam Stars have become household names throughout the country and beyond. Given that situation, future generations will be able to look back with pride and emulate what has gone before them.
Here in the parish the Parish Pastoral Council have become involved in the planning and daily running of the Cathedral parish. They have been instrumental in linking with Tuam 400 for this celebration. With the religious in the community, the Presentation Sisters and the remnant of the Sisters of Mercy and the priests of the parish, Tuam continues to build on the strength of the past and lay the foundations for a bright future. I warmly congratulate all who are involved in this 400 celebration and all who work to make Tuam what it is today.