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Homily of Bishop Denis from the first Mass celebrated in Killabban Graveyard in 350 years, since Cromwellian times


Cemeteries are touchstones. They link us to a past. They connect us with those gone before us. They remind us of our own mortality.

Here in Killabban we stand literally on “sacred ground”. In sprinkling the graves later with holy water, I will also be blessing the place where St. Abban was laid to rest in the seventh century.

This is the first Mass celebrated in these monastic ruins since Cromwellian days. As we assemble 350 years later, we do so in a spirit of profound respect for the souls that have stood here before us and are now looking upon the face of God.

Let us begin, as always, by calling to mind our sins …


St. John reminds of the many rooms in our Father’s house. It consoles us not to be troubled or afraid. He is “the Way, the Truth and the Life[1]. In recent days the much loved Capuchins on Dublin Street, turned the latch-key for the last time on their friary and chapel. A friary and chapel that has been there on Dublin Street for the past 44 years. The four Capuchins who formed the community there have literally dispersed to the four corners of the Capuchin mission houses around Ireland. I wonder what thoughts had they, as they closed the door for the last time behind them?

As we stand here in Killabban, maybe it’s also appropriate to ask what might have gone through the minds of the monks as Cromwell’s vicious reign of terror was in their sight that faithful day, 350 years back. Did they feel, as they faced inevitable death, that the faith in these parts would become a thing of the past, would be something that would be soon be forgotten?  

And today we stand in the middle of those monastic ruins, celebrating a Mass, perhaps the very first Mass since those dark and evil Cromwellian days. It’s an evening to remember the persecuted and martyred in our Church across the world this evening. We all know about the sad events unfolding daily in Ukraine. But do we hear enough about Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Burkino Faso, Myanmar? I could go on to recite a litany of all the places where people of faith are being persecuted today.

While this site at Killabban had become overgrown over the years, it was in 2012, ten years ago, when the Killabban Monastery Restoration Committee was formed and began the painstaking task of preserving this sacred space for future generations. Preserving it one headstone at a time, one plot at a time, one wall at a time .

This evening, we are the ones writing another page of history in the rich tapestry that is Killabban itself. The monk who quenched the last candle at Mass here 350 years is remembered this evening. The monk who saw the Cromwellian soldiers maybe in the distance over the hills and knew his fate is remembered this evening. The monk who was the last one to be killed that night is remembered this evening.

But it’s not enough to remember, we must do something about these great people, on whose shoulders we proudly stand this evening, indeed on whose graves we may be standing, because all of this is holy ground. Without their sacrifice, we would never be here. A resilient community who faced the Bruce Invasion, the Black Death, the Plague and Cromwell’s Crown forces but the faith has still survived. A faith that goes back thousands of years to St. Abban, St. Evin and others gone before us leaving today footprints on the sands of time.

St. John tells us to trust and that what we must do about our dead, whether it’s the monks of 350 years or our own more recent ancestors. Our faith doesn’t sweeten the bitterness of death but it reassures of what awaits all of us – our belief in the resurrection.

I get great comfort from the Irish phrase: “Ní imithe uainn atá, ach imithe romhainn” (they are not gone from us, but gone before us). I finish with one of my favourite Ledwidge poem’s ‘A Little Boy in the Morning’:

“He will not come, and still I wait.
He whistles at another gate
Where angels listen. Ah I know
He will not come, yet if I go
How shall I know he did not pass
barefooted in the flowery grass?

The moon leans on one silver horn
Above the silhouettes of morn,
And from their nest-sills finches whistle
Or stooping pluck the downy thistle.
How is the morn so gay and fair
Without his whistling in its air?
The world is calling, I must go.
How shall I know he did not pass
Barefooted in the shining grass?”

May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed who rest in this sacred ground of Killabban, rest in peace. Amen.

Fond memories this day of Fr. Ted Kennedy whose anniversary this is (25 August 1996) and Fr. Mick Kaye (whose anniversary this is 25 August 1992).

[1] Jn.14:6