The first rule of the Catholic Parent Club is DO NOT SIT AT THE FRONT. Brendan seemed to have forgotten this as he confidently strode up towards the altar with our hyperactive toddler in his arms, and I slunk behind carrying the baby, as everyone watched us. We weren’t particularly late for Mass: five minutes or so, pretty good going by our standards. “Brendan, what are you thinking!” I hissed as he settled into a pew right under the priest’s nose. “What?” he said. “This is Ireland: it’s always empty at the front.”
Within minutes the toddler made a break for it, heading at speed for a stand laden with lit candles. The congregation, up for a bit of amusement, watched to see whether Brendan would catch up with her before she knocked the whole thing over. He made it, just, and then had to haul our toddler, kicking and screaming the whole way up the aisle, back out into the car park, leaving me alone at the front for the rest of Mass, all eyes boring into me as I tried to placate a loud and wriggly baby for an hour.
We’re in the Diocese of Cloyne, visiting Brendan’s family and, as I’m finding out, going to church in Ireland is a very different experience from going to church at home. For one thing, all that seems to matter is how fast a priest can say Mass. “That’s Fr Winkle now,” Brendan’s mother explains to me. “He takes his time. He’ll say a proper homily. He’s got ideas, you know. He’ll go to the back of church after Mass to greet people. ‘That fella’s been to England,’ they say.”
Legend has it that one local priest clocked in at under half an hour. When a parishioner mentioned it, he raised an eyebrow and said: “And did I miss anything out, so?”
If it isn’t a priest speeding through the liturgy, it’s the congregation speeding through the responses. I’ve given up trying to participate in the liturgy because it’s just a cacophony, with half the people around me on “Amen” by the time I’ve started with the “Our Father”.
As for Communion, it’s an every-man-for-himself, bundle-into-the-aisle-all-at-once kind of affair. My English sense of order is rocked and disturbed by this. I like a neatly ordered queue, me.
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