St. Brigid’s, Glassdrummond, one of the three churches of the Parish of Upper Creggan. Credit: uppercreggan.co.uk.
As the clock struck midnight on 6 October, Fr. Dermot Maloney’s parish underwent a dramatic transformation — though it remained invisible to the naked eye.
The Irish government decreed that from 7 October the whole country would be placed under “Level 3” restrictions for three weeks as a result of an increase in coronavirus cases. Public worship would be suspended for a second time this year.
This created a peculiar situation in the Parish of Upper Creggan because it straddles the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, where public Masses are still permitted, albeit with restrictions.
Maloney would therefore only be permitted to celebrate Mass with a congregation present in two of the three churches in his parish: St. Patrick’s, Crossmaglen, and St. Brigid’s, Glassdrummond.
The parishioners at his third church — Sacred Heart, Shelagh — are not, however, permitted to attend public worship. (The parish’s relationship to the border can be seen on this map.)
Maloney told CNA yesterday that the situation was a “sad” anomaly.
“I think it’s quite sad at the moment that we’re not able to minister as fully as we would like to do,” he said.
Maloney himself is based in Crossmaglen, a village in County Armagh, Northern Ireland. When he drives south to serve parishioners at Sacred Heart, Shelagh, there is no indication that he is crossing a border, apart from the road signs changing from miles to kilometres — the preferred unit of length in the Republic of Ireland.
Asked how parishioners in Shelagh were coping with the changes, he said: “They’ve just accepted it, because all their neighbouring parishes in County Louth are the same.”
The plight of the Parish of Upper Creggan has caught the attention of Maloney’s archbishop.
Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh told CNA last week: “Part of my diocese is in Northern Ireland. And the other part of my diocese is in the Republic of Ireland, and as of yesterday the Republic of Ireland restrictions don’t allow us to gather for public worship. In Northern Ireland, we can still have public Masses.”
Martin and the three other Catholic archbishops of Ireland have requested a meeting with Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) Micheál Martin to seek the restoration of public worship in all parishes.
Fr. Maloney said: “It would be easier if we had one rule for all. It would be a lot easier if there was more cooperation, that we weren’t trying to think of two different rules and regulations at the one time.”
Armagh is not the only diocese that has to deal with two different sets of coronavirus regulations.
In a statement yesterday, Bishop Larry Duffy, who leads the Diocese of Clogher, said: “As bishop of a diocese that is divided by the border, I am very aware of the fear, frustration and inconvenience that people are experiencing.”
“I am especially conscious of the loss felt by so many on the southern side of the border at not being able to celebrate public Mass together. In fact, in some of our parishes, Mass is available in one part while not in the other.”
“The Eucharist is an essential part of the spiritual nourishment of Catholics and I look forward to the day when we can all celebrate it again.”
Asked what the ideal outcome would be for the Parish of Upper Creggan, Maloney said: “That things will go back. That there’ll be a vaccine got for the coronavirus and that everything will be able to operate as it was prior to the coronavirus.”
“And people will be able to come to Mass and able to pray for their loved ones, and able to have their weddings and their baptisms and their celebrations, with no limits to numbers that can come to them. At the moment, we’re very limited to the numbers we can have in our churches.”