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Leinster towns take on a continental aura for Corpus Christi

Leinster Leader 12 June 2008


Leinster towns take on a continental aura for Corpus Christi



The street processions which accompany holydays and feast days of saints are a huge feature of the calendar throughout Europe especially in the Mediterranean countries where elaborate pageants and festivities are encountered in Spanish cities or Greek villages celebrating the feast of the locality’s patron.  In Ireland, for numerous reasons, (the weather being one, no doubt) the scale of public celebration on such occasions has been limited. However, for many decades, the banners and bunting  were broken out for the Corpus Christi processions in early June with many towns putting out their best décor to mark the almost mid-summer church holiday.

This was the case in many Leinster towns in June 1958 when the Leinster Leader featured front page reports of the processions throughout the midlands. The article was headed by a large four column-wide picture of the procession in Naas – the photographer being noted as Jim Gaffney, one of Jim’s first published photographs at the start of a photographic career which was to continue for over fifty years.

The photograph depicted a procession on main street of Naas led by a large number of altar boys followed by the Blessed Sacrament being held aloft under a canopy by Fr. Sean Swayne curate and escorted by an honour guard of Army officers. Following the escort party were schoolchildren from the local schools, the Order of Malta, the women’s Legion of Mary, the Children of Mary, the Convent of Mercy School Choir and what was described as the ‘Select Choir’ under the direction of Fr. Doyle, Parish Priest. The procession traversed the length of the main street south from Poplar Square, turned around at Murtagh’s Corner and then proceeded to the decorated portico of the Courthouse where Fr. Swayne, assisted by Fr. Larry Newman, conducted Benediction.

There was a colourful scene in Ballymore Eustace for the Corpus Christi procession there where it was reported that ‘Little girls strewed flowers before the Canopy under which was borne the Sacred Host … Fr. M. Brown, PP was celebrant assisted by Frs. Scanlon and P. Dowling. The canopy bearers were Patrick Burke, Thomas Cregg, Jerome Lynch, and Peter Nugent. The band was under the baton of Mr. J. Twaytes and the choir was in charge of Mrs. N. Gallagher, NT.

As could be expected there was a strong Army contribution to the Corpus Christi procession at the Curragh Camp. Open-air mass was celebrated on the McDonagh Barracks Square by three Army chaplains – Frs. P.J Boylan, B.McGuirk and G. Brophy. The Cadet School under the command of Comdt. Tadhg Ryan rendered honours with sword drill and the salute was sounded by buglers from the Army No. 1 band conducted by Lieutenant Denis Mellerick.  There was then a procession over a mile long through the camp with large numbers of army and (unusually for an inland location) naval personnel taking part. The sacred host was escorted by the highest ranking guard of honour possible with Lt. Colonels O’Donnelly, Byrne, Cogan and Kennedy forming the escort.

The opening paragraph of the report on the Blessington procession painted a picture of blissful high-summer days: ‘With a brilliant sun castings its radiance over the district, the annual procession wended its way through the gaily decked town of Blessington.’  The vivid colour of the procession was enhanced by the school-children who walked carrying multi-coloured flags under the supervision of their teachers Mr. JL Quinn and Misses Moore and Shanley. The first communicants who had made their first holy communion the day before carried baskets of flowers and looked exceedingly pretty reflecting ‘great credit on their parents and their teacher, Ms. O’Donnell, NT.’ Indeed the ceremonial at Blessington would leave Vatican pomp and ceremony in the shade: ‘Altar boys dressed in red cassocks, and carrying thuribles and candles came immediately before the canopy-bearers and presented a continental and charming feature of the procession.’

This sense of making a great effort continued into the public address arrangements at Blessington: ‘A loud-speaker mounted on a motor van, was loaned by Mr. L. Halligan. It conveyed Fr. P. Leonard, S.J. and Fr. Collins, CC who recited appropriate prayers along the route.’ The choir under the direction of Mrs. Hessian, and St. Joseph’s Brass & Reed band trained and conducted by Mr. E. Cannon contributed immensely to the procession.  Fr. Daniel Lucey, PP, carried the monstrance and the canopy-bearers were Messrs. John Healey, A O’Leary, Thomas Hamilton, Myles Cullen, Joseph Slattery, Thomas Walsh, Patrick Kelly and Louis Murphy.

The ceremonial in Blessington came to an end with the singing of ‘Faith of Our Fathers’ – as good a summary as any of the devotional character of the Irish public in the middle decades of the twentieth century.                             


Series No. 71

Liam Kenny in his regular feature 'Nothing New Under the Sun' examines the newspaper coverage of how Leinster towns took on a continental aura for Corpus Christi.

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