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Balally Church becomes memorial for all victims of COVID-19

By Cian Molloy - 23 May, 2020

"We have a Christian duty to pray for the dead," says parish priest Fr Peter Byrne.

The red-bricked walls of a Dublin parish church have become a memorial to the thousands of Irish people who have died in the current new coronavirus pandemic.

On the walls of the Church of the Ascension in Balally, Dublin 16, there are more than 2,150 crosses – one for each person listed as having died from COVID-19.

Parish priest Fr Peter Byrne said the idea came to him almost immediately after the first Irish casualties of the disease.

“When the lockdown was declared, we had just had a huge funeral that day and then we had to close down and it was a response to that,” Fr Byrne said.

With the news media making predictions about mortality rates and death counts, the parish priest found that there were many in the parish whose focus was not on numbers but on ‘the beautiful individuals and precious people who were going to lose their lives’.

“We decided we would do something to highlight these individual losses to the community and to also highlight our Christian duty to pray for the dead.”

In addition to streaming a daily Mass from the church, Fr Byrne also celebrates a Prayer Service each evening at 8 p.m. Both can be accessed here.

At present the church, which was consecrated in 1982, is closed for community worship, but during the 10 a.m. daily Mass there is Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, with the host viewable through a window from the courtyard in front of the main entrance to the church.

Each day a small group of parishioners bring their own chairs and sit in this courtyard, each one 2m apart from the other, and they listen to, and pray with, the celebration of Mass inside. One attendee is a parishioner in a wheelchair who visits the church each day to pray for his brother who was lost to COVID-19.

Of course, the individual memorial crosses on the church are blank, as COVID-19 victims are not being identified by health authorities, but there is one cross for each victim on the island of Ireland, north and south of the border.

At first Fr Byrne had 100 crosses to put on the church building but as the national death toll increased, his supply began to run out. Priests in nearby parishes – Sandyford, Dundrum and Cabinteely – forwarded memorial crosses that they had in their supply and then ‘a lovely gentleman from Tipperary’ sent Fr Byrne 500 crosses for the wall.

Yesterday, following the strong winds of Thursday night, crosses were blown off the building, but by midday Fr Byrne and some parishioners had already gathered them up for re-installation.

“There is a couple in the parish that have been very good at helping me with this,” said the priest.

Located in the foothills of the Dublin mountains, between Tallaght and Dún Laoghaire, Balally is known in Irish as ‘Baile Amhlaoidh’ and is named after a Viking chieftain that once ruled the area.

Amhlaoidh is rendered as ‘Olaf’ in English. This happens to be the name of the patron saint of Norway and it is after this saint, St Olaf, that the local GAA club was named when it was established in 1981, a year before the Church of the Ascension opened.

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