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Dunmore East
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 Wexford.
Dunmore East, Co. Waterford, Ireland

Stories

“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attention was withdrawn momentarily from the Priests of Killea Church and aimed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

machine

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

Convent Chapel.

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.