Tributes paid to social justice campaigner and Western Rail Corridor advocate Fr Micheál Mac Gréill
Tributes have been paid to the late Fr Micheál Mac Gréil lifelong Western Rail Corridor campaigner.
Colmán Ó Raghallaig of West In Track said: “It was with deep regret that we learned of the death of our dear friend and colleague, Dr. Micheál Mac Gréil of Westport. Is mór an chaill é do Chontae Mhaigh Eo agus don tír ar fad.
“Fr Micheál, or An tAthair Micheál as he was better known, was the patron of the West on Track campaign and a founding member of the Western Inter-County Railway Committee together with others such as the late Joe Cawley and Martin J. O’Toole.
“In that capacity he campaigned tirelessly for the restoration of the Western Rail Corridor as a vital piece of infrastructure for the west. In the course of that campaign, spanning more than forty years, he saw the reopening of the line between Limerick and Galway and, more recently, had been eagerly anticipating the official announcement of the reopening of the line to Claremorris.
“His particular desire, however, was to see the preservation and development of the line northwards from Claremorris to Collooney and Sligo. In the early 1990s he succeeded in preventing the lifting of that section of the railway while continuing to point to the critical economic role it could play in connecting Ireland West (Knock Airport) and the many towns in its hinterland.
“Born in County Laois and reared in County Mayo, Fr. Micheál led a long and fascinating life.In his younger years he was a Captain in the Defence Forces before going on to study for the priesthood with the Jesuit Order. A gifted academic and thinker, he lectured in Sociology at NUI Maynooth for twenty-five years but he was by no means a prisoner of the academic world.
“His deep sense of social justice led him to write about and study many of the glaring inequalities in Irish society. Part of that research saw him spending a protracted period living on the side of the road with a group of traveller families.
“A lifelong Irish Language activist, he was active on the National Executive of Conradh na Gaeilge for many years and together with Tomás Ó hEochaidh set up the Feachtas youth organisation in the 1980s.
“He also served as the National Chaplain of Pax Christi and was the National Chairman of the Pioneer Association for many years. He was a deeply spiritual man and successfully campaigned for the restoration of the Máméan shrine on the Maamturk Mountains where the late Cliodhna Cussen’s magnificent sculpture of St Patrick, stands as an enduring monument to his efforts.
“Probably best-known for his ground-breaking research on changing Irish attitudes and prejudices, he was the author of Prejudice and Tolerance in Ireland (1977), Prejudice in Ireland Revisited (1996) and Pluralism and Diversity in Ireland (2011).
“Such was his independence of mind and standing on social issues, that he was called as an expert witness by Mary Robinson, later Uachtarán na hÉireann, in the case which led to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Ireland.In his remarkable memoir, The Ongoing Present (2014), Dr Mac Gréil wove together his own life with his view of the major events of each decade in Ireland, and in the wider world.
“Beautifully written, it is at times gentle and nostalgic and at other times fiercely political and radical. A truly unique and personal look at the micro and macro history of the previous eighty-three years.
“Jesuit, soldier, academic, trade unionist, social radical, rail campaigner – he was all of these things - but ultimately he was just a proud and decent Irishman who wanted the best for all. He will be greatly missed by all of us who had the privilege of knowing and working with him.
“Tá an laoch ar lár agus is cinnte nach mbeidh a leithéid arís ann. Slán agus beannacht, Micheál, a chara. Solas na bhflaitheas go bhfeice tú agus glóire na n-aingeal go gcloise tú”
A tribute to the late Fr Mac Gréil was also made by President Michael D Higgins.“It is with great sadness that his colleagues in Social Studies of which he was one of the founders in Ireland, those campaigning for equality and for respect for our Famine heritage, and people across Mayo and beyond, will have heard of the death of Fr Micheál Mac Gréil, SJ.
“Micheál Mac Gréil as university teacher, campaigner and priest made a deep impact on so many lives.Throughout all of his work, Micheál Mac Gréil brought a sense of the urgency of recognising justice issues of compassion. His was an early and constant call for the importance of overcoming social prejudice.
“This was reflected in the broad range of causes he supported, such as fighting for the rights of Travellers, for the Irish language, for prison reform, for the decriminalisation of homosexuality, and in support of the Irish language and the development of the western region.
“Across his many publications, Micheál emphasised the need for economic arrangements to serve as a means of strengthening community, family, volunteerism and cultural values, rather than at their expense. He was a man who truly gave authenticity to the importance of linking life and values, something which he taught to so many. He will be greatly missed by all of us who knew him. May I express my deepest sympathies to his fellow Jesuits, to his family and to all his many friends. The Irish language has lost a great and enthusiastic campaigner. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a h’anam dílis.”
Tributes were also paid to Fr Mac Gréil at Monday’s meeting of the Borough District of Sligo where a vote of sympathy was passed having been proposed by Cllr Declan Bree.
“I wish to propose a vote of sympathy to the brother, extended family and to the many friends of Dr. Micheál Mac Gréil who passed away at the weekend.
“Dr Micheál or An tAthair Micheál as he was better known in Mayo, was one of the founding members of the Western Inter-County Railway Committee in 1979 .
“Back then together with councillor Joe Cawley from Tubbercurry and Mayo councillor Martin J. O’Toole and others, Fr Mac Gréil set the foundation for the campaign to re-open the Western Rail Corridor.
“In the course of that campaign, spanning more than forty years, he saw the reopening of the line between Limerick and Galway and, more recently, had been eagerly anticipating the official announcement of the reopening of the line to Claremorris.
“His particular desire, however, was to see the preservation and development of the line northwards from Claremorris to Collooney and to Sligo.
“In the early 1990s it was Fr Mac Gréil who succeeded in preventing the lifting of that section of the railway while pointing out the critical economic role it could play as a vital piece of infrastructure for the West of ireland.
“Cllr Gino O’Boyle, Cllr Arthur Gibbons, Cllr Thomas Healy and myself are the current representatives of Sligo County Council on the Western Inter-County Railway Committee and all of us are proud of the fact that we have had the privilege of working with Fr Mac Gréil in that campaign to see the Western Rail Corridor re-opened and the Sligo to Galway train service restored.
“In addition to his membership of the Western Inter-County Railway Committee Fr Micheál was also the patron of the West on Track campaign, which has also carried out trojan work in terms of progressing the campaign for the reopening of the Rail Corridor.
“A gifted academic and thinker, he lectured in Sociology at NUI Maynooth for twenty-five years and he was probably best-known for his ground-breaking research on changing Irish attitudes and prejudices.
“In a tribute President Michal D. Higgins referred to Fr Mac Gréil’s early and constant call for the importance of overcoming social prejudice. He said this was reflected in the broad range of causes Fr Mac Gréil supported, such as fighting for the rights of Travellers, for the Irish language, for prison reform, for the decriminalisation of homosexuality and in support of the development of the western region.
“At one of the last meetings I attended Fr Mac Gréil pointed out the enormous advantages the re-opening of the Western Rail Corridor would bring, not only to Sligo and to the other towns which it linked, but to the entire Western region. His dream for the west was that there would be a job and third-level education and hospital accommodation within commuter distance of everyone.
“One way of paying tribute to him and to the late Joe Cawley and to all those early pioneers who ensured that the rail corridor was preserved, will be to increase our pressure on government for an early commitment that the necessary resources will be provided to see the Western Rail Corridor fully restored and the rail service from Sligo to Galway re-opened,” said Cllr Bree.