'We can't blame Cromwell,' say parting Dominicans
It was a day that no one ever wanted to see dawn, a packed St Dominick's Church in Athy was told. The Dominican order held its last Mass in the parish, ending an association dating to the 13th century.
Addressing a congregation of up to 1,000 well-wishers and amid tears shed by friars and parishioners alike, Fr John Harris said it was the first time in 791 years of the Irish Dominicans' history that they were voluntarily closing one of their foundations.
"We can't blame Henry VIII or Cromwell this time," Fr Harris quipped, a reference to the forced closures in times of religious persecution in the past.
He explained that the Dominican friars had made this decision with "heavy hearts" but they had to face the "realities of today".
He outlined how the fall-off in vocations had left them without the personnel to run all their houses.
In 1965, there were 425 Irish Dominicans, but now there are just 162. In 1972, the average age of the friars was 44, now it is closer to 74.
He urged parishioners to look to the past with gratitude and think of all the great Dominicans who have served in the area since 1257.
This is the first of five closures announced by the Dominican provincial Fr Gregory Carroll in September 2014.
Other centres in Dublin, Drogheda, Waterford and Limerick are also due to be closed.