The “people’s priest” Fr Murty Byrne was laid to rest in his native Rathangan after funeral Mass celebrated in Ballymore Church by the new Bishop of Ferns Gerard Nash which was also attended by the outgoing Bishop, Denis Brennan and priests of the Diocese.
Fr Byrne, who was appointed to Ballymore/Mayglass 16 years ago, died at Wexford General Hospital last week following an illness. He was 74 years old.
A native of Muchtown, Rathangan, he was a son of the late John and Margaret Byrne and is survived by his sisters Blee and Ell; his brothers Jim and Seanie, his extended family and friends and his fellow priests.
He attended Baldwinstown national school and later studied for the priesthood in St. Peter’s College before his ordinationin Rathangan 45 years ago by Bishop Patrick Casey for the Diocese of Brentwood in England and he served in Essex until 1983 when he returned to the parish of Rowe Street in Wexford town, serving there until 1989 when he was assigned to Kilmyshall in Bunclody where he was curate until 1990.
He took a sabbatical from 1990 to 1991 and on his return was appointed to the parish of Raheen where he was curate until 2005 when he was appointed parish priest in Ballymore.
Bishop Nash said the task of speaking about Fr Murty became easier and easier for him as stories were, told following his death, of the role he played in people’s lives.
He was “close to the people” and “so close to all of you that he was part of your story” and “he brought the Gospel alive for you”, he told parishioners.
Bishop Nash said the late priest provided presence and guidance to many people. He reached out to people who were not regular church-goers and those who wouldn’t be comfortable in the church. He had a sense of the value of the Gospel to all and sundry.
Speaking about the large number of people who came to Ballymore Church where Fr Byrne lay in repose the night before his funeral, the Bishop said he was struck by the red jackets of the Bargy Vintage Club which he helped to establish, and which reflected his willingness to “give time and patience to something no matter how unpromising it might be at the start and which later became something valuable.”
He said one of Fr Byrne’s favourite phrases on greeting someone was: “Here’s my butty (buddy)” and there was no more powerful prayer than to hope that this is how Murty himself would be greeted by God today.
On behalf of the parish of Ballymore/Mayglass Mary Fenlon said Fr. Murty enriched all their lives before Covid ever came along by teaching them the value of simple things in life.
On his arrival , he threw himself into parish life, extending the school and renovating both churches, helping to raise €350,000 in seven years for the restoration o fthe 180-year old Mayglass Church. He helped set up Bargy Vintage Club and bought a car park for Ballycogley Hall which he renovated.
"He improved our parish greatly. It was always a pleasure to spend time with him”, she said, thanking Wexford General Hospital for allowing parishioner friends to spend time with him before he died. In his final months, he embraced the mobile phone and used it to keep in touch with people.
On trips to Dublin for chemotherapy, he remained positive. “He never gave up and he never gave in. He had a great sense of humour and enjoyed ‘acting the goat’ as he called it.”.
His nephew John Power spoke on behalf of the family, thanking his ‘clerical family” for their support and their unwavering friendship throughout his life and also “the wonderful people of Ballymore/Mayglass who treated Murty as one of your own and treated him as a friend rather than as a priest”.
He described his uncle as a learned man who could never have enough books to hand. After school in St. Peter’s, he worked as a teaching assistant in Rathangan school and in a cheese factory in Yorkshire among other jobs, and in the summer of 1970, the year he began studying for the priesthood in St. Peter’s College, he worked in Boston and Chicago, returning there in the following summers. He had fond memories of America and would often tell stories about that time.
In Raheen, where he was curate for 14 years and was involved in numerous projects including building a new hall and renovating the church, his Masses became very popular due to a new phenomenon at the time, called “the short Mass”. While there, he also helped to establish the Shamrock Vintage Club.
His nephew said he loved travelling abroad and would often visit friends in France. “He had friends in places most of us didn’t even know about and never will. He loved company and he loved being among people.”
He ended with a favourite quote of Fr Byrne, when he was involved in a fundraising venture or giving advice to a teenager: “Put your head down and keep going.”
During the funeral Mass, various gifts were brought to the altar, symbolising Fr Byrne's priestly life, his interest in tractors and lorries, his green-fingered love of growing things, his love of community and his love of Wexford.
Former Wexford Administrator Fr Jim Fegan who got to know Fr. Byrne when he was based in the Presbytery in Wexford town said he was a “wonderful man, down to earth, with a great sense of humour and curiosity.
"He took religion out onto the street and through his own humanity, he brought faith to many people who would not have found it in the institution.
"I arrived in the Presbytery in 1988. He was curate in Rowe Street. He was a real people person. He loved walking around the town, meeting people, having a cup of coffee and a cigarette and listening to their stories. I remember he drove a mini car that had a sticker on the back that said: “King of the Road”.
"He had a great memory for the things that people told him and would ask about family members and how they were doing.
"He was the kind of fella everyone loved. He was that kind of ‘go to man’ that people of all ages felt they could talk to and confide in.
"He was a great supporter of the other priests. He was very kind. When I arrived in the presbytery first, he took me under his wing. He gave very good advice and was always very level. One of his great phrases was – stop taking yourself too seriously.
"He was a great reader and was always reading philosophy books. He was a fantastic cook. I remember one evening, he was saying Mass in Rowe Street and I was in Bride Street, and afterwards, when we got back to the presbytery, he said ‘we’ll cook up a storm’.
"He enjoyed gardening, especially planting vegetables, which is did at the presbytery and also at his home place.
"He would bring a bag of onions to someone he was visiting. One recipient asked him, ‘what am I going to do with those Murty. He replied: ‘take one before your morning offering’.
"He had a great interest in long distance lorries and juggernauts and got to know a lot of the drivers down in Rosslare Harbour. They all referred to him as Murty. Occasionally, he would accompany one of the drivers on a trip for two or three days. He loved going down to the harbour in the evenings.”
Cllr Jim Codd described him as “a great humanitarian who saw the beauty in the world”. He was “very open, very kind and very much in touch with the local people”.
Fr Byrne’s burial took place in Rathanan Cemetery.