Holy Year Cross on Slievenamon

All of 68 years after his first ascent of Slievenamon, Tommy Healy recalls his second pilgrimage

First pilgrimage - November 12, 1950

All of 68 years after his first ascent of Slievenamon, Tommy Healy recalls his second pilgrimage

Tommy Healy who took part in the pilgrimage to the Holy Year Cross on Slievenamon on Sunday last have previously done so in November of 1950.

Last Sunday was my second pilgrimage to the cross. The first was on November 12, 1950, when it was unveiled and blessed by Archbishop Patrick O’Donnell, then Coadjutor Archbishop of Brisbane. The archbishop was a Fethard man home on holiday from his ministry in Australia. A few days before he had visited the Patrician Brothers’ National School where he had been a pupil.  I was in First Class being taught by Brother Damian who had arranged for us to sing for the archbishop who seemed very touched by his welcome.

On the Sunday I went with my father, Ned Healy, to the ceremony. The day was very wet and windy. Being November it was cold as well and we all got thoroughly soaked and chilled. However, it did not spoil our ardour and a huge crowd made its way to the site halfway up the mountain. We wore commemorative badges which cost a shilling. Mine blew away but Tommy Fogarty, who lived at Trehy’s at Kilnockin, bought me a replacement. I wonder if any of these badges has survived.

The parish priest, Canon Ryan, made his way to the site on horseback. I do not remember how the archbishop made the journey. I suspect he did so like the rest of us, on foot. 

Tommy Healy, who travelled home from England photographed with organising committee members (from left) Kevin Ryan, Tommy Healy, Billy Prout and Joe Lee.

The cross was erected to commemorate the Holy Year of 1950 and to mark the occasion when Pope Pius XII formulated the doctrine of the Assumption of Our Lady into Heaven. The work of making the cross and conveying it up the mountain was organised by a committee from Killusty. It must have been a formidable task especially when machinery was limited in scope and impossible to employ on most of the terrain of the mountain. I can only marvel at the dedication and persistence of those who undertook and completed this project.

I remember that the original cross was made of wood, not the best material to withstand the rigours of the Slievenamon climate. I also recall that, at certain times of the year, it was illuminated. The light came from a set of wet batteries which had to be recharged frequently. By the early 1970s the cross had deteriorated badly and was replaced by a more robust concrete structure which was blessed by Archbishop Thomas Morris in 1974. This has stood up well to what the mountain can throw at it and seems likely to last for a long time.

The 2018 pilgrimage in pictures

I was seven at the time, my birthday having arrived two days before the ceremony. The walk up the mountain did not seem to bother me in the slightest, such being the energy, agility and enthusiasm of youth. I wish I could say the same now. With my seventy-fifth birthday not so far off this year’s trip seemed more of a challenge. However, I enjoyed it immensely especially meeting so many people from the time when I lived in Fethard and bringing home to me that no matter how long you have been away the place still has the irresistible pull of home. What also impressed me greatly was the size of this year’s congregation. Despite the decline of religious faith and practice in Ireland the basics of that faith still exercise a deep and lasting influence. 

–     (Tommy Healy, August 2018)