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Bishop Denis’ Homily on the Feast of the Assumption

Feast of the Assumption – Year A:                                                          15.08.23

Cathedral of the Assumption, Carlow @ 7pm


The Feast of the Assumption honours the Patron of our Cathedral and indeed the Cathedral Parish. Our Cathedral is one of four Irish Cathedrals that share the patronage of Our Lady of the Assumption – Tuam, Thurles and Galway. The last one adding St. Nicholas for good measure!

The Assumption celebrates Our Lady assumed body and soul into heaven. While it enjoys a long tradition of belief within the Church, it is only in Church time a recent dogma, declared by Pope Pius XII in 1950. Why he needed to declare as dogmatic something that was already revered for centuries is anyone’s guess? While the scriptures may be silent on this matter, our faith speaks loudest.

And so as we gather this Holyday evening let us call to mind our sins and pray for forgiveness …


I took a walk today to an ancient holy well where locals celebrate a great devotion every August 15th. The well is in my home parish of Slane and it’s situated on the grounds of Slane Castle where many a rock concert has been staged since 1981.

I know Holy Wells are special because of the local traditions attached to them. I think of the great devotion to St. Moling on Pattern Day every July in St. Mullins, captured beautifully on Countrywide last Saturday morning. I think of St. Fintan’s Well where I joined briefly in their celebrations on June 15th last. And Of course I think of St. Brigid’s Well in Kildare, the place of great pilgrimage as we enter the 1500th Anniversary of her death.

Returning to Slane, today is known as ‘Lady Well Day’. Pilgrims have been gathering on this site for hundreds of years to offer a prayer and to bring home blessed water.

Our Lady didn’t take a walk, Luke’s gospel tells us “she set out and went as quickly as she could[1]. She was visiting her cousin Elizabeth. They spent quality time together. Both celebrating their ‘news’, the news of new birth, new life, new beginnings.

Memory is very important and its only when a loved one loses memory that the pain of loss can be hard to take. Mary’s Magnificat is in many ways, Mary reminding God of all that He has done and all He might do through the new life growing in her womb.  Mary’s words remind us the traditional order of the world is turned on its head; God’s love transforms all of us.

I felt it as I walked earlier today. Before the well I was very privileged to go on a guided tour as part of National Heritage Week, a tour that brought me to St. Erc’s Hermitage. Erc was one of Laoghaire’s druids on the Hill of Tara as St. Patrick’s fire blazed on the Hill of Slane. When Patrick was brought before Laoghaire, Erc was the only one who stood in respect of Patrick. He converted and became Patrick’s deacon and friend. The hermitage, dating back to the sixth century is long since consigned to dust, but a more recent one built in the fifteenth century stands now on its site along the River Boyne.

In years past people in Slane would have gone on pilgrimage to the Hermitage, the Apostle Stone and the Holy Well. Today I covered all three. The Apostle Stone, whose origins are unknown is oblong in shape with carvings of six figures on each side. At one end is carved the figure of the Crucifixion with Our Lady and St. Mary Magdalene.

A week like this is a good one to visit a well, an old cemetery, a monastic ruins. These sacred places, remind us a past and allow us to sing with Our Lady her joyful Magnificat in the knowledge of all the great things that God has done and continues to do for all of us.

It saddens me to see fading inscriptions on headstones. Headstones are great triggers of memory, of a shared past. It would be sad beyond measure to see tomb inscriptions and narratives lost to lichen and to the elements. Maybe if we all took time to ensure our own family grave inscriptions were readable, that might be a good result of National Heritage Week. Blessings on this Feast of the Assumption!

[1] Lk.1: 39