Monday 23 April 2018

Long hot summer responsible for burning holy ash

The Ash Wednesday mystery of the burning foreheads has been solved by one of the priests who gave out the ashes
The Ash Wednesday mystery of the burning foreheads has been solved by one of the priests who gave out the ashes

Caroline Crawford and Geraldine Gittens

THE COUNTRY'S long hot summer has been blamed for the religious anomaly which left parishioners with burns and blisters from holy ash.

Devout parishioners who received ash on their foreheads to mark the start of the Lenten period were left in shock after the holy mark started to burn.

But Galway priest Fr Malachy Hallinan solved the mystery after sending a sample of the ash for testing to the public analyst laboratory.

Tests discovered that the leaves used to prepare the ashes were too dry, and as a result the ash turned caustic when mixed with water.

“It's really due to the very dry year we experienced. What we usually do is store whatever leaves are left over from Palm Sunday in the Spring time. I myself keep the leaves in my garage but there is usually twice as much dampness around in other years,” Fr Malachy told

“This year the weather was so dry that the leaves were left bone dry and the ash was like powder,” he added.

Dr Andrew Flanagan who studied a sample of the ashes urged the priest to highlight the problem.

“He told me there had been a previous case of this happening here in the Galway area but it had not been publicised and he asked me to get it out to make other priests aware,” added Fr Malachy.

The scientist also revealed that the problem could have been avoided if the priest had mixed the dry ash with oil instead of water.

“I will mix the ash with oil in the future. I had avoided it in the past because it's much more messy than water but a bit of mess is better than a burn,” he said.

Fr Malachy, who had prepared ashes for 48 years without incident, now plans to read the lab report to parishioners at masses over the weekend.

“Everybody who was at the Church on Ash Wednesday all experienced the burning. I had to tell about four to seek medical help and I'm expecting more calls today.

The strange anomoly also occurred in a parish in Cork where some 30 parishioners had their foreheads burned.

Fr Eugene Baker of St Joseph's Church in Newtownshandrum in north Cork was forced to stop the mass and advise the congregation to go into the church sacristy and wash the ashes off.

Now Health Service Executive laboratory technicians at St Finbarr’s Hospital are carrying out tests on the ashes.

Irish Independent

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