Priests 'go to God with yells of joy, come down with screams of terror'
SIX priests chose yesterday's Feast of the Ascension for a leap of faith.
The intrepid clerics jumped from a plane at 10,000 feet during a charity event.
Supported by hundreds of well-wishers and spectators, the five first-time parachutists and one novice jumper took part in the tandem skydive at Birr Airfield in aid of Offaly Hospice.
For Banagher-based Fr Pierre Pepper, the prospect was truly terrifying because of his fear of planes, which dates to a flight he had to take 10 years ago.
Fr Pepper admitted spending his entire holiday worrying about the flight home.
"I was actually going to get a boat from Malta to Italy, travel on to Le Havre and across to Rosslare," he explained.
"When I got in the plane I thought I was going to die," he said after the jump. "They were all chatting and joking and I had to say, 'Lads, shut up.'"
However, Fr Pepper's fear of flying has been somewhat diminished by the experience.
"I guarantee you I would get up there and do it all again, but this time I would open my eyes and know what was happening," he told the crowd upon landing.
Meanwhile, Tullamore-based Fr Shane Crombie was cheerful as he prepared to take to the skies.
"Today is the Feast of the Ascension," he explained, "so God goes up in shouts of joy, and we come down with screams of terror."
On landing, Fr Crombie added, "I'm a very proud Westmeath man, but when I came through the clouds I was never as happy to see Co Offaly.
"I'm delighted to do it for Offaly Hospice. That's why we made eejits of ourselves today."
Athlone-based Fr Charlie Healy said, "A lot of parishioners have sponsored me. My nieces and nephews were collecting 10 and 20 cents. We said our prayers this morning."
When one of his parishioners likened him to Batman during the week, Fr Healy replied, "By Sunday I'll be Flat Man."
The three priests participated in the jump along with Sligo-based Fr Vincent Connaughton, Fr Pat Gilbert of Birr, and Navan-based Fr Kevin Heery -- the only one of the six priests to have ever participated in a parachute jump before.
Although the six priests had hoped to raise €5,000 for Offaly Hospice, the final tally is expected to be well in excess of that.