On the 26th November Fr Philip Fogarty passed away after a lifetime as a good and faithful servant of God and The Society of Jesus.
On Sunday two weeks ago, I was honoured to join with you to celebrate his life and his tremendous contribution to the living culture and ethos of Clongowes Wood College.
I did not know Fr Phil personally, but I know of his legacy. It was a legacy of friendship. And a legacy of bravery.
In 1980, when Fr Phil was Headmaster at Clongowes, Ireland was a different place, and Northern Ireland was a very different place.
The series Derry Girls has painted the picture of how the people of Northern Ireland found normality and dark humour during ‘The Troubles’, but in 1980, 80 people died in Northern Ireland as a result of sectarian violence.
This week 40 years ago three people were killed; two Catholics, one Protestant, one was from Fermanagh, and one was just a child.
Northern Ireland was not a safe place. Unsurprisingly most people in the Republic of Ireland just chose not to go there.
Fr Philip Fogarty knew that peace could not be achieved without first understanding our differences but also our shared Christian values and identities. His part in this seeking this understanding was to reach out and propose a twinning with Portora Royal School in Enniskillen, the alma mater of Blessed John Sullivan. This was a risk that could have provoked much criticism. This was a risk that Dr Acheson, then Headmaster of Portora, also took.
Today crossing the border into Northern Ireland is marked only by the change of the road signs. In 1980 it could be an intimidating or frightening experience. You queued, you were profiled, your car was searched, or your bus was boarded. The noise from overhead military helicopters was deafening.
On one journey to Enniskillen, the Clongowes minibus had its tires blown by a UVF roadside trap. I often wonder how Margaret Doyle must have felt, with a bus full of boys, flagging down help, not knowing who, if anyone, would stop. Today as a teacher planning a trip, I risk assess hazards such as ‘stopping at a service station’, I think that the assessment of the hazard ‘terrorist booby-trap’ might be off the scale. While life in Enniskillen was quieter than other parts of the North, daily life was punctuated with check points, security alerts, control zones and army patrols.
When Clongowes boys arrived at Portora they bore witness to the effect and pain of the troubles. On one visit they were told ‘I’m not sitting with that fenian’. How easy would it be to be offended by this? How much harder is it to listen and learn? That Portora boy’s father was an RUC officer who was killed by the IRA. That Clongowes boy extended his hand in sympathy for his loss.
In November 1987 Enniskillen suffered one of the worst terrorist atrocities of the troubles. The IRA bombed the town’s Remembrance Ceremony. 12 lives were lost, 63 were injured. The following year, Clongowes joined Portora at the Cenotaph to share the pain of Enniskillen’s community. Again this risk was both political and perilous. In more recent years, An Taoiseach, has represented the Irish people at Remembrance in Enniskillen; Clongowes have being doing this for decades.
So much has changed in 40 years; the Good Friday Agreement, prosperity, the internet. In 2016 Portora amalgamated to become Enniskillen Royal. Our friendship has been sustained and has thrived through the relationships between both pupils and staff. Today, thousands of Portorans and Clongownians live and work on this island knowing more of each other and our faiths.
In 1980 Fr Phil was a visionary. Today we are so very grateful for his legacy.
Fr Phil’s legacy reminds me of the prayer attributed to the Methodist’s founder John Wesley:
Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.
So today I ask you to live Fr Phil’s legacy; reach out when you can, listen when you can, and learn when you can. That good could change lives and resonate for decades.
Buíochas on chroí leis an Áthair Phil, agus buíochas agus be