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*FILE PIC: Fr Willie Cummins (right). Photograph: NCR

A Clare parish priest has defended staging regular Sunday morning masses during Covid-19 lock-down saying that no person has got the virus from attending his masses.

PP of Ennistymon, Fr Willie Cummins was speaking on Sunday after 48 mass goers attended 11am mass at the local Catholic church in the north Clare town. He told the congregation he was hopeful the turnout would increase next week.

As of Monday, priests can celebrate masses with 50 people – however, during the Covid-19 Level 5 lockdown, it has been a criminal offence to attend public mass, other than funerals and weddings.

In an interview outside Church after mass ended on Sunday, Fr Cummins said: “There hasn’t been one person who has got Covid from being in there”. He admitted to celebrating mass “the whole time” during the lockdown.

Asked was 50 the average attendance at his 11am mass on a Sunday, the veteran priest replied: “There would often be some more”. He said that the people attending his mass “haven’t been put at risk”. He added, “Look at the size of the Church. It is all sanitised and the doors are left open all day.”

During mass on Sunday in the large church, there was one person in each row separated by two rows to the next person with the vast majority of mass goers masked.

Fr Cummins said: “I wouldn’t do it if I was causing trouble”. He said: “A packed Church wouldn’t happen and that wouldn’t be right.”

On his way from Church to deliver communion to parishioners unable to attend mass, Fr Cummins said “look at the size and the height of the Church here”. He said that the Government and all those people who are making up those rules “don’t give an ounce of intelligence to anybody”. He said: “Let us use our own bit of common sense.”

“There are too many people who love this old messing – making rules for everyone and telling others what to do. I don’t tell anyone what to do. I invite them and try to get them to see for themselves what way mass is being said”. He added, “Go to Lahinch and see the crowds there at the weekends and from Thursday evening on, every second car going there is a ‘D’ reg”.

Asked if the Gardai have been in touch concerning the Sunday morning masses, Fr Cummins replied: “No, the Gardai are very understanding people.”

Asked if he had informed his bishop (Bishop of Galway, Brendan Kelly) of the Sunday masses, Fr Cummins replied: “Someone else told him.”

An Ennis man who is a regular to 11am mass at Ennistymon church during the lockdown said: “Fr Willie is doing what he should be doing as a priest”. The mass goer said that attending Sunday mass in Ennistymon “is absolutely safe”.

The mass goer said that he has no concerns over his health attending mass in Ennistymon. “I’ve no worries. Absolutely none. It is a big church. We are all socially distant from each other. I never had a moment’s worry and I would have underlying conditions but I never had any concern in here. None whatsoever.”

The mass goer – who preferred not to be named – stated that he has been at 11am Sunday mass for the last number of weeks in Ennistymon “and there have been no issues”. He said that attending mass on Sundays in Ennistymon “has helped to get me through the lockdown”.

The mass goer said that attending mass in Ennistymon “keeps me going because mass is very important to me and getting Holy Communion is very important to me. It keeps me going for the week”. A daily mass goer for many years, the man said that has had his two Covid-19 vaccine ‘jabs’.

The mass goer stated that Government restrictions banning Sunday mass “has had a huge effect on the older generation. They have been cut off from it”.

The most recent Covid-19 figures for the north Clare electoral area that contains Ennistymon show it has one of the lowest Covid rates in the country with the statistics showing that there were less than five cases in the most recently fortnightly period to May 3rd.

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