The life story of one of Irelands most politically active priests and human rights campaigners. I suppose one of the big lessons I learned in my life as a Catholic is that Christianity is a reminder that you cannot sit on the fence , that is, if you care about the way your sisters and brothers are treated and if you care about what is happening to the planet earth. Moving from his childhood in 1940s Fermanagh, through his experiences as a defender and upholder of civil rights in Northern Ireland, Joe McVeigh takes the reader on a journey through his eventful life. For McVeigh, Christian faith involved not just going to Mass and doing charitable works but also required a sensitivity towards those who were marginalised and felt excluded. Joe McVeighs politics and theology had been influenced, not just by the Second Vatican Council and his studies in Maynooth but mainly, by his early life experiences growing up in Fermanagh. This book, by a priest who has challenged both civil and clerical authority, is a memoir of years of violence and bloodshed, sadness, sorrow and also of hope. Honest and open, it gives an insiders account of some of the most difficult years in our recent history.
Joseph McVeigh was born in Ederney, Co. Fermanagh. He studied for the priesthood in Maynooth and has been working as a priest, mostly in Fermanagh, since 1971. Fr McVeigh is the author of A Wounded Church and Renewing the Irish Church: Towards An Irish Liberation Theology.
Fr Joe McVeigh is often regarded as a priest whos soft on republican violence. Hes also been frequently critical of the Church, and had a well-documented altercation with Bishop Lucey. Another target of his criticism is the late Pope John Paul II.
Fr Joe, however, is a very spiritual man and rock solid in his faith. The fact that he comes from Monaghan, however, and has been so close to tragedies like Bloody Sunday, means that he emphasises engagement on realpolitik rather than theological issues.
My Christian faith and religious upbringing, he writes in this very detailed and compelling book, involved not just going to Mass and devotions but also sensitivity towards those who were poor and marginalised.
Hes not against authority per se, just those who proclaim from pulpits (and indeed polling booths) that theirs is the only way: My way or the highway.
He writes clearly, and with a lot of common sense - which isnt too common in this world of ours. Hes a rebel with a cause, or rather many causes. Hes seen too many tragedies to sit on the fence and say This is just the way things are.
Hes not rabidly republican, just an enemy of political corruption and doublethink. In any struggle hes on the side of the angels, a warm comforter of the lost and the bereaved. (One of the most poignant moments in the book is when he hears the last confession of a dying man).
He also feels a huge affinity for those left behind by the political process. For every Enniskillen, he knows, theres a Birmingham Six, for every Omagh a Guildford Four. Everybody has been tarnished. The town I loved so well could be anywhere, Ireland - green, white or orange.
He was as instrumental in bringing about the Good Friday Agreement, as anyone else who put their head above the parapet and said, in so many words: condemnation gets us nowhere. We have to find out WHY people plant bombs. Thats the starting point.
- Aubrey Malone