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Dunmore East is a small fishing village on
the south-east coast of Ireland, 16kms from
the city of Waterford.
It sits on the western side of the Waterford
Harbour Estuary, 4.8kms from Hook Head in
Dunmore East, Co. Waterford,
“Hail Queen of Heaven, the Ocean Star' echoed from a series of megaphone speakers
that were attached to the Convent roof. It was the first Sunday in May dedicated to those
who had a close affiliation to The Virgin Mary. This was the day when the focus of
attention was withdrawn momentarily from the Priests of Killea Church and aimed
squarely at the Convent Nuns who rose to the occasion with pomp and ceremony. It could
be suggested that this was a “Women's day out” in celebration of another Woman, The
Virgin Mary, a day when Priests and Men took a back seat and left it to the ladies.
Heathen Protestants lay in bed or walked their dogs in the park, but the real faithful of the
village thronged en masse to the Convent on Sunday afternoon to witness the spectacle.
It was a hard day for myself and my comrades “The Fir Bolg”. Our group of Altar Boys had
been handed the hated May Procession assignment by our School Teacher a gleeful
Sean O'Mullain. I am sure he just took one look around the classroom and knew
immediately who to appoint. Other Altar Boys hands shot skyward after he popped the
question seeking volunteers, but no doubt, his attention was drawn to those whose eyes
focussed on the wooden floor hoping their lack of exuberance signalled a definite non-
committal to the upcoming event.
It was all part and parcel of a time when the majority of Dunmore residents were
practising Catholics save for a few Protestants who lived in “the big houses” along the
village. It was reported that they did not believe in “The Virgin Mary”, that they considered
she did not exist, and would all end up in Hell for their non-conformity to popular opinion.
My home was not feverishly religious, nevertheless Sunday Mass was strictly attended,
and of course, my Altar Boy duties saw to the rest. My Grandaunt lived with us during my
young years and she was as devout a Catholic as any of The Convent Nuns. Her
bedroom was adorned with pictures and relics, and her sacred heart picture stared down
from above her bed as a warning to all sinners who entered her room. The picture had a
light attached to the bottom of it, which illuminated the eyes of the longhaired Jesus within
the frame whose eyes followed you no matter what part of the room you stood in. She
loved religion, never smoked, and detested drink. This made for an uneasy relationship
between herself and my Aulfella who favoured the latter, and puffed to his hearts content
on Woodbine cigarettes.
Her favourite exclamation was “Oh sacred heart of Jesus”, which she would often use
after listening to tales of sacrilege concerning sinners who lived a half mile away in distant
Dunmore, or on other occasions when she observed the Aulfella stretched snoring on the
sitting room couch after consuming a dozen large stout or more in Katie Bills Pub.
The dreaded Sunday arrived and my Grandaunt was delighted. “You will be serving Mass
at the Procession she enquired?” “Yes Nan ”, I replied, wishing I was a Protestant and
playing football in the park instead. The Procession itself was a strange affair; it could
hardly be called a procession. Half the entire village proceeded to enter the front door of
the Convent, snake around its back garden, and then exit through the back door on to the
road where the least fervent of the community gathered to watch the others pass by. It
then re-entered the Convent yard and ended up in the Chapel. The journey between the
back gate and the front gate afforded an excellent opportunity for Aulfellas, my own
included, to lose their bearings at the tail end of the procession. This would see them
swiftly depart the proceedings and head up the road past Burkes shop to Bills Pub where
they would re-group. The sudden departure often went unnoticed by Wives and
Grandmothers, but not from the keen eyes of young Altar Boys who yearned to be
heading in the same direction.
A group of old women who were called “The Children of Mary” led the procession every
year. In a way, it was confusing for a child to attempt to understand why old women such
as these should be called such a name. Neither was under sixty, and as such
demonstrated limited physical capacity for the task they had been charged with, leading
the procession, while at the same time carrying a statue of The Blessed Virgin high on
their frail shoulders. As such, the procession was a stop start affair, as the old women
negotiated a few steps here and there in the Convent grounds. They wore long blue robes
and lace veils, which made them look like beekeepers, and carried the statue on a type of
stretcher similar to that used by “The Apparatus”. Whoever had choreographed the
stretcher bearing had failed miserably in their task; Nurse Barry (The local District Nurse)
fronted the stretcher, in the company of her life long companion, Mary Sullivan. Nurse
Barry was almost six feet high and Mary only 4 feet high, the Virgin therefore was forever
tilted dangerously to one side akin to a motorcyclist negotiating a sharp bend on his
The Convent school girls, dressed up in white communion outfits with veils to match,
came next, as did a sprinkling of hand picked young fellas from Killea School, then the
Nuns, after that it was our turn led by Father Power. Finally the most devout of the Parish,
which included a selection of Parents and Grandparents. After that, the procession was
reduced to those who had no choice about being there but had not implemented a
“Powers Pub” exit strategy similar in fashion to some of the Aulfellas.
Along the roadway was the most dangerous for us Altar Boys. A number of issues
confronted us; the footpath was lined with people from all over the Parish which included
some heathen enemies from our battles in the Dunmore wood. They would group together
and snigger as we passed, “The Fir Bolg me arse”, and “Robin Hood is a sissy” were
some of the harsher taunts we had to endure. Reprisal was out of the question as
Mothers and Grandmothers peered from the crowd focussing on their respective offspring
and commenting on how angelic and holy they looked in their Altar Boy's clothes. Either a
Mother or a nosey Aulwan in the crowd would have immediately identified a retaliatory
finger or an f-off sign, and retribution would have followed in earnest later on that evening.
It was however totally demoralising for Knights of our distinction to be humiliated by a
bunch of heathens and not be able to retaliate.
All the while, the hymns bellowed out from the speakers, “The Bells of the Angelus” and
other holy favourites echoed down the harbour and beyond. At intervals, the whole thing
came to an abrupt halt while a decade of the Rosary was broadcast through the speakers
by a Nun perched high in one of the lofty rooms of the Convent. I forget how many
decades there were, but the stopping and starting continued for at least two hours until
finally the “Children of Mary” almost bent to the ground from the effort, staggered into the
Father Power would then take over and as usual, because he spoke so softly, those
beyond the front two seats of the Chapel never heard a single word he said and used the
word “Amen” at intervals to hide their total ignorance of his narration. Finally, at about
three o clock, the ceremony would end for another year, and I would make my way home
carrying a small case, which contained my Altar Boys clothes.
My enduring memory of the event was in returning to the house one evening to find the
Aulfella, (who had used the procession exit strategy) snoring on the couch, the open
bellows of a button accordion stretched across his chest, and a terrier he owned sleeping
near his head. The door opened and my Mother and Grandaunt entered filled with piety
after walking up the road from the procession. “Oh sacred heart of Jesus” exclaimed my
Grandaunt upon seeing the Aulfella.
From the Short Story Writings of Mick D.
The May Procession
The Short Story Writings of Mick D.