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MY BELFAST EXPERIENCES 1978 – 1983

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ST PETERS BELFAST

PRIESTS – ESPECIALLY IN DOWN AND CONNOR – WHO DO NOT LIKE ME FOR EXPOSING THE TRUTHS ABOUT THEM ALWAYS TRY AND DEMEAN THE TIME I SPENT IN DIVIS FLATS WORKING AMONG THE PEOPLE.

Today I am writing a brief account of that time and I challenge anyone to come forward with EVIDENCE to contradict my account.

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MC KINLEY

I went to Divis in the summer of 1978. The administrator Fr. Vincent McKinley was off on the sick and the senior Fr. Joe Mc Gurnaghan was On holidays.

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MC GURNAGHAN

I was met and welcomed in by the curate – a Derry man named Jimmy McCabe. McCabe was a holy and spiritual man who prayed and spent his time visiting homes. He was a chain smoker.

I discovered that McKinley and McCabe – even though they had three meals a day together – had not spoken for 14 years!

The other curate was a Salesian called Jimmy Burns who did great work with the young people.

The lifestyle in the presbytery was at least 4 *

Four course lunch everyday with soup laced with sherry, meat main course with red wine, desert and coffee laced with brandy.

Even though McKinley was the chairman of St Louise’s girls school he was was banned by the principal Sr. Genieve for feeling up the girls and lady teachers.

McKinley said a private Mass in the Tridentine Rite every morning dressed in black vestments.

He looked after the money and admin but did very little pastoral work.

McGurnaghan did absolutely nothing except saying one Mass a day. He only left his room for meals and spent all his time listening to classical music and sipping Remy Martin VSOP cognac.

Soon after I arrived McKinley did his knee serious damage on the golf course. I visited him in hospital, drove him about and every evening I gently massaged his injured knee with oil.

We were quite close and he admired my preaching. He used to invite older diocesan priests to come and here me preaching.

At the end of my first year McKinley sent for me and told me that the senior curate McGurnaghan was jealous of our close working relationship and we would need to be more remote with each other. I had no problem accepting that.

About the same time I was thing very hard about how I could transform Divis Flats in some way to give the people hope. I was already chairman of the Divis Residents Association which was resented by my fellow clergy and indeed by the paramilitaries.

I decided that we would clean up the flats, approached the Housing Executive and was given loads of free paint, brushes, shovels and pain brushes.

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Up to 500 people, mainly women and children, joined me and in a few weeks we had the whole area transformed into a very respectable looking neighbourhood.

I then organised a week long Divis Festival to celebrate our success with bands, various acts and all kinds of food and drink.

Things inside the presbytery became unbearable because of the resentment of McKinley and McGurnaghan and I was banned from the priest’s dining room and ate with the housekeepers.

One night McKinley knocked me to the floor and gave me a severe kicking.

He and McGurnaghan used to kick my bedroom door late at night and sing obscene rugby songs.

All the time Bishop Philbin expressed no disapproval but actually encouraged me to keep the young people out of the hands of the paramilitaries.

Then Cahal Daly came in 1982. McKinley and McGurnaghan reported me to him for causing disruption.

Daly listened to them, transferred me to Kilkeel and then to Larne and in 1998 told me I had to leave the diocese.

I refused and still live in the church house in Larne. I am in Larne for 35 years now.

McKinley and McGurnaghan were out and out clericalists who resented the pastoral work and social work I was doing.

They made my life hell.

In the RC church if you are at all different and want to work among the ordinary people they accuse you of promoting yourself, disobedience, letting the side down etc.

Thankfully I have had great pastoral and spiritual freedom for the past 33 years.

“The closer you are to the church the further away from God you are”.