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'The lion sleeps- rest in peace, Cesar.'   Words attached to Sir Rod Stewart's wreath for Billy McNeill.

The Priest


From my earliest days in Glasgow, I always had a deep attachment to my Catholic religion. But it was when I began to live in Ireland in 1945 that I came under the influence of the Irish people and their way of treating the practice of their Faith as a vital component of daily life.


Living with my aunt Nellie was like having Jesus and Mary and all the saints of heaven as one’s daily companions. However, it was only when I spent a winter holiday with the Adams family of Carrowbehy, County Roscommon in 1946 that the first conscious stirrings towards becoming a priest emerged. One of the sons was a priest in Mobile, Alabama, and pictures of him as a clerical student and a young priest adorned the house. But it was the presence of a wooden chalice that Father Joe Adams had made for himself with which to practise the saying of mass that really fired my ambition to emulate him.


It was no surprise, therefore, to find me in the Late Vocations class of the Society of African Missions at their college in Cork in 1950. But after two years, the Society deemed the class surplus to requirements and we were left in limbo. Still determined to be a priest, the Pallottine Fathers accepted me into their college in Thurles, County Tipperary, where I was to spend eight happy years until my ordination in 1960. The parish of Saints Peter and Paul, Amwell street, London welcome me as its new curate the following September. I was to remain there for five years.


Of the many stories I relate in the book, the one about the “Football priest” has pride of place in my memory. As the youngest priest in the presbytery, I became chaplain to the Royal Free hospital, Gray’s Inn Road, where I was on call day and night and visited two afternoons a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays.


One night, just as I was undressing for bed, the telephone by my bedside rang. I knew instinctively that it was the hospital. A man was asking for the “Football priest”, the staff nurse told me and they knew it had to be me. By the time I approached the dying man’s bed, I knew who he was. Each Tuesday we had talked about the fate of the London football teams the previous Saturday. We never once got on to the subject of religion.


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