'Impure thoughts were a serious threat, again mortal sins. Late for mass on Sunday was venial'

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'Impure thoughts were a serious threat, again mortal sins. Late for mass on Sunday was venial'


Billy Gallagher reflects upon the prestige held by priests when he was young and the stringent obedience to Catholic rules and dogma.


Billy Gallagher


Trinity College Dublin




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Billy Gallagher

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Strabane, Co. Tyrone

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All of us boys wanted to be priests, not for any religious motive but because the local priest was such a significant person. I remember one priest, Dr Marron, in retrospect a nasty piece of work. In announcing once that the Christmas collection would be taken up next Sunday he said he would be reading out the list after Christmas and he wasn't going to read who gave what but instead he would read out who gave nothing. Priests and teachers believed in what they said since that is what they were taught. The bishops were no different. At that time priests were not allowed to study the bible and this did not change until about the 1960s. Lough Derg, three days of physical punishment and starvation was a major industry. Lent for 6/7 weeks, a time of fasting and abstinence, a predominance of fish and eggs under pain of mortal sin. Impure thoughts were a serious threat, again mortal sins. Late for mass on Sunday was venial up to the presentation of the gifts and mortal thereafter. Missing mass even on a holy day a deadly serious mortal sin. The idea of entering a church of a different denomination was quite unheard of. To enter during a service (e.g. a funeral or a wedding) was a 'reserved' sin and could only be forgiven by a bishop. The first time I ever encountered God was in the flat in Dublin where a Kerry priest, SeՍn Quilter, introduced us to Michel Quoist and his book 'Prayers of Life'. That ws about 1964 not long before the Second Vatican Council. We read the writings of the Vatican council avidly, not so much because we were interested but more because that was what we did in the 1960s and 70s. I remember heated debate on the papal encyclical 'Humanae Vitae' which concerned contraception etc and we would have been 100% in agreement with the sentiments expressed. I think that was the summer of 1967, we were all in our mid twenties.


Irish Research Council for Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences (IRCHSS)

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Dr Kathleen McTiernan (Trinity College Dublin)

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Dr Deirdre O'Donnell (Trinity College Dublin)


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