Supporting Local News

End of another chapter in the Claddagh’s history


From this week's Galway City Tribune

From this week's Galway City Tribune

End of another chapter in the Claddagh’s history End of another chapter in the Claddagh’s history

From the Galway City Tribune – The Prior of the Dominicans in the Claddagh has moved on after three terms ensconced in the parish where he has made music an integral part of life.

Fr Donal Sweeney first came to the Claddagh 35 years ago when he was appointed chaplain of the Fr Griffin Road ‘tech’. He returned for two further six-year terms, his last started in 2016 when he served as parish priest.

During his time in Galway, the native of Ennistymon has revelled in a close bond between the locals and the Dominican Order, which has had a presence in the ancient fishing village since the 1400s.

“That was demonstrated very much when we went into lockdown when most us in the Dominican community had to cocoon and were told not to leave the house. Local people were offering to do our shopping, our cooking,” he recalled.

“When it came to reopening St Mary’s Church people rallied around to make sure everything was in place with regard to sanitising and ushering. I’ve always been impressed by the faith and support for the church among the people here.”

After Brother Christopher O’Flaherty died during the pandemic, locals showed up to continue where he left off in caring for the extensive grounds. Fr John O’Reilly and Fr Terence McLoughlin from the community also died during the pandemic but all three deaths were unrelated to Covid.

The community is now led by Fr Matthew Farrell, who was ordained in 2019.

While Fr Sweeney worked at the ‘tech’, he led a youth choir among students. Those same parents returned to form a choir in St Mary’s, which has been a strong force involving up to 40 active singers since the mid noughties. The Galway Baroque Singers has also been a hugely important part of the cleric’s life, allowing him to enjoy trips at home and abroad as a tenor.

Fr Sweeney has long been heavily involved in the Claddagh School, with the previous principal Brendan Forde and now Michael Gallagher. He describes the national school which boasts a purpose-built centre for children with autism, as “creative, inclusive and innovative”.

“There’s a strong musical tradition there. Just this week they gave a Japanese orchestra of 60 school children a huge welcome,” he reflects.

“They take great pride in the traditions of the Claddagh. A lot of these traditions are going to die out as the older generation pass away. But the school are always highlighting traditions like the King of the Claddagh.

“A lot of the children there don’t even live in the Claddagh. Many of them are second generation whose parents have had to move out because of house prices. But their parents still send them there and the granny picks them up and maybe on the way home they visit the church and light a candle.”

The priest – who won’t give his age away but says he’s the same age as “Mr Biden” – has moved to the Dominican community in Tallaght, where he has already enjoyed a rehearsal of the Tallaght Coral Society. But he plans to return regularly to his former home.

He might even make it back for the weekly drink in a local hostelry enjoyed by clerics of surrounding parishes. And the annual Blessing of the Bay ceremony could also prove a draw.

He is delighted in his time to have blessed three hookers in Claddagh Bay, restored and returned to the sea by dedicated seafarers determined to keep the ancient seacraft alive.

“It takes a whole community build them and to learn how to sail them. Each of them comes with a special story.”

No doubt Fr Sweeney leaves the Claddagh for the next chapter of his life with more than a few special stories of his own.

More like this:

Sign Up To get Weekly Sports UPDATES

Go Up