Father Jeremiah P. Moynihan said he was given some important advice by the inhabitants of Dingle, County Kerry, Ireland, who had a number of expressions and sayings.
“When you’re talking, keep your mouth shut,” he said. “If you’re talking, say nothing. And if you keep talking, say nothing.”
Father Moynihan didn’t exactly follow that advice during an interview about his Sept. 9 to Dec. 16 sojourn to Dingle, where Irish is still spoken and animals have the right of way on rural roads. His adventures in Ireland included seeing the famous Irish band, the Wolfe Tones, and singing in a pub himself, he noted.
“I was brilliant,” the 66-year-old priest said with a laugh. “But I’m very partial.”
The priest noted that this was his seventh trip to Ireland and that he still finds the Irish love of words to be enchanting. For example, he said, during a downpour one day, he ran into a shop where the owner took a positive view of the inclement weather.
“‘We’re getting liquid sunshine,’ he said,” Father Moynihan remarked with a chuckle.
Pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Elmira, Father Moynihan kept his flock informed about his three months in Ireland through letters that were published in the parish bulletin. In one of his first letters, he noted he was getting used to driving on the left side of the road and added that he had begun his studies, focusing on Celtic spirituality. During the interview, Father Moynihan said he learned that Celtic Christian spirituality was rooted in Ireland’s pagan past.
“Before Christianity came, (Ireland) was a pagan country, so they still use a lot of those symbols of nature and creation to speak about God and remind us about God,” he said.
He added, for example, that the rooster, known for crowing at dawn, is a symbol of the Resurrection, and that his interest in Celtic spirituality was piqued by retreats on the subject that he attended at the Sisters of St. Joseph Spirituality Center in Irondequoit. Marveling at God’s gifts of creation is a hallmark of Celtic spirituality, he noted.
“It’s a wonderful form of prayer and a deep sense of prayer,” he said.
Early Irish Christianity was tribal in its sensibilities, he said. Ireland’s clan chieftains all bowed to a high king, he said, and in a parallel manner, Christians worshiped Christ as the “high king of heaven.”
As St. Patrick’s Day approaches, Father Moynihan noted that during his studies in Ireland his appreciation was renewed for what St. Patrick endured to convert the pagan Irish.
“He was a very prayerful and holy man,” Father Moynihan said. “He suffered an awful lot. … People ridiculed him, made fun of him. He was teaching a religion totally different from what they knew. I’m always grateful to him for bringing the faith to the Irish people.”
Father Moynihan himself is first-generation Irish-American, and noted that his father emigrated from Ireland to America in the early part of the last century. Father Moynihan added that he still has several cousins in Ireland. Unfortunately, his cousin, John Moynihan, died while the priest was there, yet even that moment of sadness was tempered by a typical Irish moment when the priest attended the wake in the home of John’s widow.
“I stopped at their home yesterday and already the body is there in the coffin,” Father Moynihan wrote his parishioners. “I expressed my sympathy to his family, said a prayer, sat down and had a glass of Irish whiskey in my hands, no questions asked. An old-fashioned Irish wake!”
The priest also studied the Irish language while in Dingle, and stressed that it belongs to the Gaelic family of languages, including Welsh and Scottish, and is not to be called “Gaelic,” as it is sometimes mislabeled. He added that he learned pronunciation in Irish depends on whether you’re talking to males or females, and that the language is still required in Irish schools.
Father Moynihan said that he also found that the Catholic faith is still strongly present in Irish culture, despite the recent trend toward secularization. For example, he noted that Irish TV news still doesn’t start until 6:01 p.m., rather than 6 p.m., in order to allow for a broadcast of the Angelus, a Catholic prayer traditionally recited at 6 a.m., noon and 6 p.m.
The priest said he found Ireland’s public embrace of Catholicism to be refreshing.
“They don’t apologize for being Catholic,” he said.