By Sean Ryan - 13 September, 2015
Almost 200 people attended a public meeting in the Ballymore Community Centre in Co Westmeath this week calling for the retention of a full-time priest.
The meeting was held following the release of the clerical appointments list for the diocese of Meath which showed that the parish of Ballymore will have no priest from the end of this month when the current parish priest, Fr Philip Smith (79), retires after 24 years in the role.
Bishop Michael Smith announced that Fr Oliver Devine, parish priest of the neighbouring parish of Drumraney, will assume responsibility for Ballymore following the retirement of Fr Smith.
In a statement this week, Bishop Smith said that he longer has enough priests to go around for all the parishes.
Bishop Smith also confirmed that it was unlikely that Ballymore would have a resident priest again.
And he predicted that other parishes over time will also find themselves without priests. “This is going to happen in several parishes. Part of the problem, the challenge is the population of the diocese has more than doubled in my time.”
The bishop listed Stanmullen, Mornington, Ratoath and Laytown, all Meath villages within commuting distance of Dublin, as parishes that have seen a lot of growth.
‘’There are fewer priests to go around, and now Ballymore which formerly had two priests will be relying on the services of the parish priest of neighbouring Drumraney.”
Bishop Smith revealed that he had been aware for some time that there was going to be a problem affording a priest for Ballymore. Fr Devine was aware in time that this was coming up, ‘’I told him when he was appointed to Drumraney,” he said.
However, speaking at a public meeting in Ballymore this week, the local postmaster and undertaker Declan Rooney said there was shock in Ballymore over the news that the parish is no longer to have a priest.
“Everybody is just livid,” he stated and added, “Just listening to people coming into the post office, there is a lot of anger. The older people are very upset. They are sorry to lose Fr Smith but he is entitled to retire.”
He added that as an undertaker in the town he can see it ‘’becoming difficult finding a priest free to conduct funerals and also to anoint the dying. There are also the First Friday calls.”
A unanimous decision was made by all in attendance to form a delegation to meet Bishop Smith on behalf of the community at a later date.