By Katie Ascough - 25 October, 2019
Yesterday evening at 7.30 p.m. the Oblate Fathers on Tyrconnell Road in Inchicore, Dublin, hosted a tribute evening to honour the late Fr Paul Byrne OMI (8 August 1932–4 December 2018).
Fr Byrne served as chaplain of and advocate for the Irish emigrant community in Britain from 1965 to 2003.
The first child to John and Lavinia Byrne, Paul entered the Oblate novitiate at Ardagh, Co. Limerick, in September 1951. Four years later, after completing a BA at UCD, he began theological studies at the Oblate Scholasticate in Kilkenny, where he was ordained a priest on 21 September 1958.
As chaplain, Fr Byrne played an important role in the life of many Irish emigrants to Britain. He and other chaplains experienced first-hand the harsh conditions and stoical endurance of the Irish navvies which, in turn, engendered in the priests a huge respect and admiration for those whom they served.
Tributes last night were led by Dr Patricia Kennedy, author of Welcoming the Stranger, Irish Migrant Welfare In Britain since 1957. The evening’s guest speaker was social entrepreneur Norah Casey and attendance included lay, religious, and clerical friends and colleagues of the late Fr Byrne. The tribute coincided with the relaunch of Ultan Cowley’s seminal book The Men Who Built Britain, which includes a newly added dedication to the chaplains who served the Bishops’ Commission for Emigrants.
Ahead of the tribute evening, the chair of the Bishops’ Council for Emigrants, Bishop Denis Brennan, said, “I strongly support the tribute evening to honour Father Paul Byrne who, with great passion and conviction, led a deeply impactful missionary life.”
The bishop reflected on his memory of a visit by Fr Byrne to the House of Missions in Enniscorthy when he asked for help in reaching out to the many Irish people who worked on the motorways in Britain at that time. “His imparted knowledge and wisdom during that visit were symptomatic of his genuine care for our own abroad – with whom he was not only very familiar – but to whom he acted as good shepherd and guide,” said Bishop Brennan.
During his speech at the tribute, author Ultan Cowley added: “Fr Paul Byrne’s indefatigable work on behalf of the Irish in Britain was invaluable in effectively engaging the Irish government with the needs and aspirations of that community right down to the present day. Like the navvies these men were a special breed to whom much is owed. Their like will not be seen again!”