A RETIRED Dublin schoolteacher has spoken of her heartache after her twin brother, a parish priest, was falsely accused of indecent assault.
Fr Eugene Boland (67) returned to his ministry at the weekend, four years after the allegations were made against him and more than 18 months after a jury took an hour to clear him on five charges.
St Mary's Church in Killyclogher, just outside Omagh in Co Tyrone, was packed with 900 parishioners as Fr Boland returned to ministry, just days after being cleared to do so by church authorities in Rome.
The priest, originally from Moville in Co Donegal, wept as he hugged family and friends.
"This should never have happened," Fr Eugene's twin sister Aine told the Herald after the Saturday night Mass.
"He has been put through so much in his life and taken it all on. He was in the Creggan in Derry in 1970 when the Troubles started and saw a lot of things there.
"He was in other parts of the city too. In the early 90s he was asked by the police to go into a house where people were making a 500lb bomb.
"Eugene is a great brother and a great priest. I'm so delighted to see him back doing what he does best – helping people.
"He should never have been charged. Everyone knows that. It was awful what happened to him. Thank God he's back now."
The priest was cheered and applauded by his congregation.
Hundreds who couldn't fit inside the church watched on a large screen in a parish hall.
Almost four years to the day after false assault allegations were made against him, the 67-year-old looked nervous as he returned to his flock.
The Derry Diocese, which straddles four counties on both sides of the border, was out in force to support him.
Nine priests, including his brother Fr Declan Boland, were in the chapel, alongside another brother, Enda.
Another sibling, his sister Mary who lives in Vancouver, watched the Mass via webcam.
The returning parish priest was cheered again as he spoke at the end of the Mass.
"Tonight I can truly say what a joy, what a privilege it is for me to be back in my parish church, my dream has been fulfilled," he said.
"The journey over the past three and half years has been a long and painful one, but I do not look back with any sorrow or regret, rather I look forward with great hope and confidence because I am back where I belong, with you, the beloved people of Cappagh parish.
"What I have missed most was not being able to celebrate Holy Mass or administer the sacraments. My priestly ministry has been on hold since 2010.
"Tonight is like a new dawn, a new beginning, it's like a day of Resurrection."
He said that he "never doubted" that he would return to his ministry, and he had been sustained through his darkest days by support from friends throughout Ireland.
He paid a special thanks to his brother Fr Declan, the parish priest in Strabane, 20 miles away.
Tears welling up in his eyes, he said: "He was there for me, every hour of every day."