Monday 11 December 2017

Rev. Fisher involved in 'Fethard Boycott'

Reverend Adrian Fisher.
Reverend Adrian Fisher.

A CHURCH of Ireland reverend, who arrived in Fethard-on-Sea in 1957 to find himself faced with a bitter sectarian controversy that reverberated around the world, has passed away at the age of 90.

Reverend Adrian Fisher was just 33 years old when assigned to the seaside village. A mild-mannered, scholarly man, he assumed the Church of Ireland posting at St Mogue's Church after a spell serving with the British army, coping with tense troops who were waiting to be deployed from Cyprus as the Suez Crisis broke.

But on April 21 that year – just six days after the official end of Fisher's short-service commission with the military, and while he was preparing for the move to Fethard – Sheila Cloney, a young Protestant mother in the locality, left her Catholic husband Sean and ran away to Belfast with their two daughters.

Despite a promise given on her marriage that their children would be brought up in her husband's faith, it seemed that she could not bring herself to send them to Fethard's Roman Catholic school.

When Rev Fisher arrived in the village in mid-May, tempers in the small community were flaring.

He found himself called in for a meeting with a furious Catholic curate, Fr William Stafford, who accused the Church of Ireland and its approximately 25 local adherents of helping Sheila Cloney to flee.

Fr Stafford also called at Sunday Mass for the villagers to boycott local Protestant businesses. The Catholic flock's obedience devastated the lives of the owners of the newsagent and grocers, as well as a music teacher who lost all her pupils.

Rev Fisher told Fr Stafford that he had no intention of going to Belfast after Sheila Cloney. Donations and messages of sympathy for the beleaguered Church of Ireland members flooded in from as far afield as Canada, the United States and South Africa. Time magazine coined the word 'fethardism' to describe the sectarian dispute. The boycott ended only when a Catholic clergyman signalled a truce by entering Protestant Betty Cooper's newsagent and buying a packet of cigarettes.

The events became the subject of a film, 'A Love Divided' (1999), and a book, 'The Fethard-on-Sea Boycott' (2010), by Tim Fanning.

Sheila Cloney returned home at Easter 1958, and she and her husband resolved their dispute by educating their children at home.

In 1960, Rev Fisher married Mary Elizabeth Anne Sadler, always known as Pan, and the couple went on to have three sons. He stayed in Fethard until 1962 and then rejoined the Royal Army Chaplains' Department, this time serving in Germany.

An English parish followed when, on leaving the Army in 1970, he was appointed priest-in-charge of North Stoke with Mangewell and Ipsden, Oxfordshire. He was then vicar of the parishes from 1983 until 1992, when he retired.

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