Priest, shot three times, to come home to study Irish
Traumatised Father Creagh is moving to Tory Island for lessons in his native tongue, writes Cathy Madden
An Irish priest who was left for dead following a vicious attack in South Africa has decided to return home to learn Irish on Tory island after suffering post-traumatic stress disorder.
Father Kieran Creagh was shot three times in February 2007 during a violent robbery on his home, which is attached to the Leratong AIDS hospice that he established in the township of Atteridgeville in 2004.
After the shooting, Fr Creagh spent several months at home recuperating, only to return to South Africa towards the end of 2007. Months later two of his attackers were convicted of his attempted murder and jailed for 25 years.
The Belfast priest wanted to come back to the poverty stricken township to fulfil his ambition of building a church, as well as a creche and health clinic on a site adjacent to the hospice that stands high on a hill overlooking the daily tensions below.
"The plans were drawn up, we got planning permission and most of the funding had come in and I knew if I didn't come back we could lose all that," said Fr Creagh standing alongside the finished project that officially opened in November 2008.
Work started on the building of the church just over a year after the attack and provided a distraction from the trepidation the now 47-year-old priest had returned to South Africa with. The following year, in 2009, the high he felt after it was built was, however, replaced by an ever-present sense of anxiety.
"It was a year that I didn't have much to do. I was getting panic attacks a lot, had very high blood pressure and could feel my pulse racing. I was getting palpitations and nightmares that I was being attacked," Fr Creagh said.
They were later diagnosed as symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder for which he is now attending counselling.
The brutal attack attracted international attention and Fr Creagh's story has since spread around the world, with his life's work currently being ghost written by an English biographer.
"There is this anxiety always in the back of my mind. I'm always keeping my ear to the ground and my eye well open, just trying to stay away from trouble," he said.
"I used to be free to go anywhere in this township or this country, and I enjoyed that freedom because it's a very beautiful country. Now I'm less likely to go anywhere. I keep around the hospice and keep around the places I know."
He did find some respite though during a trip to Ireland last August.
"It was such a relief to be back home. It was as if someone had lifted a huge weight off my shoulders, off my head and out of my mind and heart," said Fr Creagh.
It was then that he resolved to pursue his desire to speak Irish fluently and study Celtic spirituality.
Fr Creagh was due to depart for Tory island off the Donegal coast this June after 12 years in South Africa, but his plans have fallen through as he needs to wait another year before his replacement takes over at the hospice.
"I have met some wonderful people here and it will be very difficult leaving them behind. It will be with some sadness too, as South Africa seems to be heading in the wrong direction with corruption, greed, crime and HIV/Aids."
Now the Belfast man wants to be back among his own people, particularly at a time when Ireland is absorbing the effects of recent child abuse reports.
"I've heard from priests back home that it is a particularly difficult time for them, but it was a difficult time for those who were abused.
"I'm not sure the church is as humble as it should be; I think they should be on their knees, start afresh and help people in their faith," he said.
"Everything that can be done, should be done to heal those who were abused."