Thursday 14 November 2019

Gaeltacht choir sing for first Sunday service as Gaeilge in millennium

Concubhar Ó Liathain

There has been Sunday Mass or Morning Service at the site of Dublin's Christ Church Cathedral since there first was a church on the site, almost 1,000 years ago.  But it wasn't until this weekend that there was a Sunday service in Irish at the famous cathedral, home to the relics of St Laurence O'Toole and the remains of many Irish kings, lords and leaders.

And taking a lead role in this historic religious event was Múscraí Gaeltacht choir Cór Chúil Aodha, led by Peadar Ó Riada, whose father Seán composed the first Mass in a vernacular language following the break with the old Latin Mass which had been used by the Catholic Church up to Vatican 2 in the early 1960s. Church of Ireland historian Kenneth Milne explained that since 1030AD up to Sunday, the main service on Sunday morning had been either in Latin, up to the Reformation in the 16th century, or English.  The history making Celebration of the Eucharist on Sunday was officiated by Belfast born Church of Ireland priest, the Reverend Gary Hastings, who is the Canon Treasurer of Christ Church Cathedral and a well known traditional musician in his own right.  "As for the importance of the occasion - it's a pleasing thing to see Irish being used, not for sideshows or for special occasions, as can be the case, but for the ordinary everyday business of life, as in the usual main service of a cathedral on a Sunday in the capital of our country," said Canon Hastings. 

"As I spoke to people leaving the Cathedral afterwards, aside from a few foreign tourists, more than three quarters of the people spoke to me in Irish as they left.  "Why not? Le cuidiú Dé beidh sé againn aríst!"  He added that it was a great privilege to participate in such an historic occasion with the accompaniment of music by Cór Chúil Aodha.   "You couldn't ask for better," he remarked.  Sunday's service was very nearly delayed by traffic restrictions in the capital city due to the Marathon but both Cór Chúil Aodha and the Reverend Trevor Sargent, the former Green Party leader who was ordained a Church of Ireland priest in recent years, who was to deliver the sermon, were able to gain access to the famous Cathedral which is located in the ancient heart of Dublin, just behind Wood Quay.  In his homily, the Reverend Sargent said he hoped the Irish language service in Christ Church on Sunday might prompt other similar services around the country.

Cór Chúil Aodha director Peadar Ó Riada explained that the choir have been involved in ecumenical services with the Church of Ireland since the days his father was the director.  "In the Summer of 1969 the choir took part in an ecumenical service in Cill Maoilchéadair in west Kerry with the then Church of Ireland bishop of Kerry, Dr. Dónal Caird and the Reverend Chris Warren, and for several years after my father's death we went back to take part in that service. "We also took part in an inter-faith service with Cardinal Conway in Armagh as the Troubles were breaking out in the early 1970s and later on we took part in an interfaith service in Christ Church in Dublin with the then President, Dr. Paddy Hillery, in attendance." While Sunday was historic in terms of an Irish language service at Dublin's main Church of Ireland cathedral, it's not the first Irish language Sunday Church of Ireland service.  That took place in St Nicholas' church in Galway some years ago and also involved Cór Chúil Aodha and Canon Hastings.

Earlier this year Cór Chúil Aodha was invited to take part in an inter-faith service also at Christ Church when the 2019 class of the Irish Army Cadets was being commissioned.  Peadar's daughter, Ruth, was commissioned as an officer on that occasion.  The trip by Cór Chúil Aodha to Iona in 2014, the year of its 50th anniversary, when an inter-faith service involving ministers from the Church of Scotland and which was attended by President Michael Higgins, was another ecumenical highlight for Peadar.  He was centrally involved in the organisation of the event which featured in an RTE documentary.  "What is really important in all of this is spirituality," he said. 

"The 'branding' is secondary. God is God." Sunday's service featured hymns composed by Colmcille, traditional hymns and "Cé Dorcha An Oíche'/Though Dark Be The Night, written by former choir member Dónal Ó Liatháin.  The music was composed by either Seán Ó Riada or Peadar Ó Riada.