Thousands in pilgrimage to shrine of Oliver
For decades, the shrine of St Oliver Plunkett has attracted thousands of visitors each year. But it all began long before he became a saint. Hubert Murphy reports
It was July 1935 when the Holy Ghost Fathers' African Missionary League undertook the first of years of pilgrimages to St Peter's Church to mark the feast day of then Blessed Oliver Plunkett.
Within a year, the number attending from Dublin, led by Dr Neville, Bishop of Carres, had risen to 900, arriving in a special train, with mass celebrated by Rev H Farrell, PP, Sterling, Toronto.
For years, the practice grew and grew.
By 1941, 3,000 were taking part, and the Dublin group, accompanied by the Drogheda Brass and Reed Band and with a contingent of the St. Peter's Troop of Catholic Boy Scouts acting as a guard of honour, marched in processional order from the train station to the Shrine of Blessed Oliver where they were received by Right Rev. Mon. E. O'Callaghan, P.P.. V.G.
The Relics were carried by Rev. Fr. Foster, Rev. J. Mackle, C.C., Mell, Rev. J. O'Neill, C.C., do. and Rev. Fr Stanley. C.S.Sp.
They were followed by Mother Mary Martin and members of the Medical Missionaries of Mary; the Drogheda Corporation in their robes of green and black and by about 300 members of the Local Defence Force from Drogheda, Julianstown, Slanc and Duleek, The Knights of Malta, Children of Mary, the children from the various schools, etc, to form one of the most impressive processions yet seen in Drogheda.
From Duke Street to Messrs. Andersons premises was one mass of people.
A year later, 700 men and women of the Holy Ghost Missionary League in Dublin attended, 250 of them cycling to Drogheda for the day!
Cardinal MacRory, Primate of All Ireland, presided in 1943, and an inspiring sermon on the life and martyrdom of Blessed Oliver was given by Very Rev. J. F. Stokes, B.D., Adm., Dundalk, and was broadcast to listeners all over Ireland on national radio.
The Procession of the Relics, which took place in the afternoon, was a magnificent demonstration of faith in and loyalty to the Cause of Canonisation of Blessed Oliver. Thousands of townspeople took part, and so large was the procession, that it took 17 minutes to pass a particular point.
It was led by schoolchildren, dressed in white and the Drogheda Brass and Reed Band, playing appropriate religious music. Then came the Dublin pilgrims with their banners, the men and women of the Confraternities, the Children of Mary in their blue robes and white veils, the community of the Medical Missionaries of Mary; the Drogheda Corporation and officials, the Maritime Inscription, the Red Cross (F.A. & V.A. Divisions), the Knights of Malta Ambulane Corps and the A.R.P. Services.
Members of the Gardai under Sergts. Harrington and Byrne, conducted the stewardlng.
Mr. R. Connolly, the new Louth T.D., marched in the procession with the Holy Family Confraternity. Addressing the crowded street, Most Rev. Dr. O'Callaghan expressed his pleasure at being present to take part in the ceremonies. He congratulated them all on the success of the Procession, and described it as a magnificent expression of their faith.
50 years ago, in 1967, pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Dublin, from Ballyhaunis (Co. Mayo), and from Tullow (Co. Carlow) joined the likes of a 500 strong group organised and led by the Holy Ghost Fathers, Kimmage, marking the 33rd annual pilgrimage to the shrine.
The party of sixty from Ballyhaunis, making their third pilgrimage to Drogheda, was led by Miss Freda Fahey. The contingent also included Right Rev. Monsignor Healy from South Dakota (aged 81)
Thousands continued to descend on Drogheda for years after, right up to the canonisation of the saint in 1975.
Next summer marks the 75th anniversary of the procession of the relics by the Knights of St Columbanus and they would love to mark that occasion with a special recollection of times past.
They are seeking old pictures, reports and whatever else is out there on those heady days when thousands packed the streets of Drogheda for the annual procession.
There are many stories associated with the day,. not least one report that the Kilkenny hurlers asked for a game to be postponed as they were all going to Drogheda that day! Apparently their unique appeal did not work and the game went ahead.
'We'd love to get whatever pictures are out there, reports of the events and people who were there,' a spokesperson for the Knights stated.
Those with details can contact Larry McGrane at 0879739418 or Jim Garvey 0863155611.