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Gort priest finding new ways of engaging with congregation

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*Fr Tommy Marrinan. Photograph: John Mangan

A Gort priest has incorporated comedy sketches into mass and also took to spreading the word of God from the back of a trailer.

Streamed masses have become the norm since the introduction of COVID-19 restrictions which have closed churches all over Ireland. Such a change has been embraced in Gort where Fr Tommy Marrinan has found new ways to engage with the congregation in what he has described as “a huge success”.

Local theatre group, The Wild Swans have been producing comedy sketches that have been included at the end of mass. The aim of which is “to try raise the spirits of the people”, according to Fr Marrinan.

Twelve years based in Gort, the Lahinch native has praised the acting ability of Kevin Glynn and Niall Finnegan for helping to put smiles on people’s faces along with Shane Counihan.

During the month of May, Tommy also took the Word of God to the people as he said prayers aloud while travelling in the back of a trailer through the streets of Gort with the assistance and advice from Gardaí. “We did it because it was the month of Our Lady in the month of May, a very special month. I can remember the May Altar during my time in Lahinch as part of a childhood, the month is very special to us”.

Fr Tommy Marrinan outside Gort Church. Photograph: John Mangan

Tommy told The Clare Echo, “One of the biggest effects of the Coronavirus was that the churches were closed and we had no contact or connection with the people, I got the idea from another parish priest who did this before in Clarinbridge, Fr Barry Horan. We felt it was a way of bringing the church to the people when the people couldn’t come themselves. We underestimated the success of it, it was outstanding with people coming to the doors of their houses and waved to each other from safe distances”.

He recalled, “The only time I was in the back of a trailer was when I was coming back from the bog bringing home the turf in Lahinch when I was a young lad, the only time I had been in a trailer was going to the bog or the meadow”. The parish tour has epitomised the “the great ideas” espoused by a small group of people working behind the scenes, “we’re very positive and going ahead in a very positive fashion, the good will of people is unbelievable”.

Ordained 36 years ago, Marrinan began life as a priest in Lisdoonvarna. Like most professions, that of a priest has seen significant alteration due to COVID-19. “It has changed drastically in the sense that we went from being very busy with sacraments, meetings, planning, the church was so alive and people were around you all the time, you were in the centre of everything. It was so busy and now we can only have ten people for a funeral or a christening, life has changed in the sense that our connection with the people has been adversely affected”.

There have been a number of funerals during this time whereby only ten people are allowed into the church. “While there is only ten in the church who are the loved ones of the deceased, in another sense when you go outside the church the people are lined outside the road from the church to the cemetery, all neighbours and friends are standing out there but of course it’s not ideal. We are very good at doing funerals in Ireland because we help the grieving process, people need that support and it isn’t really there at the moment, it isn’t ideal but we’re learning from the new normal, maybe things will be done different in the future, it is a time for reflection. Crisis is always a time of opportunity and danger, there are both elements in it, it offers opportunity for the church for us all to look at ourselves and see who we are, where we’re going and how we can shape a better future”.

Fr Tommy Marrinan. Photograph: John Mangan

Funerals, Fr Marrinan predicted will never be the same. “In a way, I think funerals in Ireland are so established and particularly rooted, I can never see them going back fully to the norm because of the regulations around numbers and social distancing, the Coronavirus will determine really how funerals will go ahead in the future, everything will be determined by the pandemic”.

Below is one of the sketches that have been used in the streamed mass’.

Páraic McMahon is Head of News & Sport with The Clare Echo. The Newmarket-on-Fergus native also writes for national papers including The Irish Examiner, The Irish Independent and The Irish Times along with doing work for RTÉ, Today FM, TheJournal.ie and The42.ie. A graduate of Mary Immaculate College, Páraic was previously employed by The Clare Herald and Clare FM. If you have a story, tip or some feedback for him then send an email to - paraic@clareecho.ie

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