Biography

Born      10 March 1946

Ordained: 20 June 1971

His home place was Tinryland, Co. Carlow.

Educated: 

St. Mary’s College, Knockbeg, Carlow (1959-1964)

St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth (1964-1971)

Appointments with Dates: 

Diocesan Appointment Primary School Catechetics 1971-1972
CC Rathvilly 1972-1973
Watford Herts Emigrants Chaplain 1973-1977
Secretary Bishop’s Commission for Emigrants 1977-1986
CC Portlaoise 1986-1993
CC Portarlington 1993-1999
PP Kilcock and Newtown 1999-2016

Funeral Details

Funeral arrangements for Fr PJ Byrne are as follows:
Removal to St Coca’s Church, Kilcock Thursday evening at 7pm where he will repose allowing parishioners to pay their respects. Night prayer at 10pm. Funeral Mass at 12 noon. Burial in Tinryland. May he rest in peace

Homily:

The powerful Latin phrase “Duc in altum”, coming from the fourth verse of Luke’s gospel, translates as the instruction to “put out into the deep[1]. It was the instruction Simon Peter was given by Jesus to pull out from the safety of the shallow waters into the depths of the sea. It was, and remains a call to authentic discipleship. Luke’s gospel ends with Simon and his colleagues leaving behind their boats and following Jesus.

It was the call that P.J. answered when he left Knockbeg in 1964 and entered the seminary at Maynooth. It was the call that saw P.J. in a priesthood that spanned 45 years, ministering for a brief year in Primary Catechetics, as curate in Rathvilly before taking up a post in emigrant chaplaincy, and later becoming secretary for nine years, of the Episcopal Commission for Emigrants. After that appointment he was curate in Portlaoise for eight years and Portarlington for six years, before coming here as Parish Priest of Kilcock and Newtown, succeeding the much revered Fr. McWey.

Luke’s gospel was the last scripture passage he read at his 10.30am Mass last Sunday morning in Newtown. He was a priest who didn’t do lastminute.com; he would have started preparing his homily a full week before delivery. Short periods of reflection and prayer were followed by being out and about living that gospel among the people. He talked to me about his homiletic method on one of my visits to him. Even on Sunday night last, when I called into a stunned parochial house, next Sunday’s text was already underlined – the work had begun. But for P.J. his parting words in the Church of the Nativity of Our Lady in Newtown were: “Kildare & Offaly; Ireland & Wales – Do not be afraid!” His focus was on the tenth verse of Luke’s text.

The Book of Wisdom reassures us “the souls of the virtuous are in the hands of God … their going looked like a disaster, their leaving us annihilation, but they are in peace[2]. It’s a huge comfort for family and friends in the aftermath of the suddenness of death. And it’s amazing that when someone we know and respect and love dies, we all feel we were close to them. P.J. had that capacity to stay in contact through the sending of snippets and articles. He kept ‘An Post’ going; he made you feel special. I don’t know where he got the time to do all the reading he did – The Furrow, The Tablet, The Pastoral Review, Ireland’s Own, The Daily Papers, the Kildare Nationalist, the Leinster Leader and of course The Carlow Nationalist to keep tabs on Tinryland! His distinctive handwriting was on the envelope. In an age of twitter, Instagram and Snapchat – P.J. was a straightforward plain envelope man! I’m not sure he even liked texting, but he never had any problem talking!

The letter to the Romans included the instruction for those who work in service of the Lord “work not halfheartedly but with conscientiousness and an eager spirit[3]. P.J.’s contribution to the Irish diaspora is a legacy for which many beyond these shores will be eternally grateful. Patricia Kennedy in her recent publication, entitled ‘Welcoming the Stranger’, celebrating Irish Migrant Welfare in Britain since 1957, speaks glowingly of Fr. P.J.’s contribution alongside Bishop Eamonn Casey in helping formulate a Christian response to the Northern Ireland problem. It was the time of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four – it was not an easy time to be Irish in England. P.J. helped Fr. Bobby Gilmore establish the Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas, the ICPO. A friendship with former President Mary McAleese developed through this work, was a friendship that never waned. His earlier work in the emigrant chaplaincy in Westminster Diocese prepared him for his later sterling work on the emigrant commission.

Be joyful in hope, persevere in hardship … look for opportunities to be hospitable[4]. It’s as if this abridged verse from the letter to the Romans was written with Fr. P.J. Byrne in mind. Articles that caught his eye might include ones around keeping a balance in ministry, having a sense of self and nourishing a deep appreciation of the spiritual. Balance was important in P.J.’s life. He treasured his little breaks; he had a passion around the GAA and he loved to entertain. Sometimes he managed to strategically combine all three around All-Ireland Final dates! Even the appointment of the new school boards of management to Scoil Chóca Naofa, St. Josephs and Scoil Uí Riada necessitated an evening meal, such was his time for the local schools – primary and secondary. Returning to the GAA; he once togged out for Carlow and let everyone know it; it was against the wee county Louth. The result escapes me, but fair to say, that when driving with I think it was, Jimmy Doyle, one day through County Cork, he pleaded with Jimmy to stop the car because he had to call in to see an old Cork friend. The car was stopped, P.J. bounced out and stormed into the house as he was accustomed to do, only to return to the car thirty seconds later – the wrong house!

It was here among you the people of Kilcock and Newtown that P.J. spent the last sixteen years of his life. He deeply appreciated your support for him in the parish, in the schools, in the clubs, in the committees and in the associations. P.J., like most of us, didn’t want conflict, he was a great compromiser, who saw the middle ground. He deeply appreciated the role of women in the church and in the life of the parish. He loved Confirmation Day – the Holy Spirit sometimes mightn’t even get a look in! While he was very aware of his own calling, he also had a great insight in identifying the gifts of women and men in the parish. He had a great respect for young people and they for him, as evidenced by the rapport he enjoyed up the way in Scoil Dara. While he was a Carlovian at heart, it seems very appropriate that he will later this afternoon be laid to rest in his native Tinryland. Writing about November in a 2010 edition of Intercom, Fr. P.J. wrote poignantly: “all of us face the mystery of death. Occasionally I wonder what will my own death be like. What happens to us after death?[5]

Among the clippings I received in last Monday morning’s post with P.J.’s infamous style of block print on the envelope were snippets about the Slane poet, Francis Ledwidge. The early lines of Ledwidge’s memorable elegy to the 1916 hero Thomas McDonagh seem very appropriate this day:

He shall not hear the bittern cry

In the wild sky where he is lain,

Nor voices of the sweeter birds

Above the wailing of the rain.

Nor shall he know when loud

March blows …[6]

On March 10th next P.J. would have turned 70 – there was a party planned for family then and a marquee booked for friends in June. We know that event will now be an eternal one, and no doubt P.J. will most likely sing ‘The Bog Down in the Valley-o’ – all 9 verses, with a couple of spare ones thrown in for good measure! May he rest in peace. Amen.

[1] Lk. 5:4

[2] Is. 3:1,3.

[3] Rom. 12:11

[4] Rom, 12:12,13

[5] Byrne, Fr. P.J., ‘In November We Remember – Life will never be the same again’, Intercom Magazine, November 2010.

[6] Ledwidge, Francis, ‘The Complete Poems’, Goldsmith, 1997, pg. 175.