The former Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois, Dr Colm O’Reilly was bestowed with high honour in Longford last Monday.
Dr O’Reilly was awarded the Freedom of Longford during a civic ceremony at council headquarters, where the Bishop’s family, friends and well wishers gathered in tribute to him.
“You have bestowed a great honour on me,” Dr O’Reilly said, adding that he was the first member of the clergy to receive such an accolade.
“I see myself as a representative of all those who are servants of their church, and I am a native son; being a north Longford man means that my whole life has been spent in Co Longford.”
Having attended Molly NS, Dr O’Reilly went on to study at St Mel’s College and then followed his brothers Fr Peter, Fr Brendan and his sister, Sr Bridget into religious life.
He was ordained a priest in 1960, and after spending a short time in Granard, he became curate in Longford town in 1969 - a position he held for nine years.
Then he was ordained Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois on April 10, 1983. “
My ministry has been spent here, which is somewhat unusual,” he continued. “It comes to a total of 44 years - a very long time. I often think of myself as a young man on the shores of Loch Gowna and when I think back to that, it gets me to sleep on nights where sleep evades me.”
He then spoke about the impact of the fire that devastated St Mel’s Cathedral in 2009, and how light shines through even in the most difficult of circumstances.
“I was very troubled after that awful event,” Dr O’Reilly added. “I had some sleepless nights as you can imagine, and I asked why such a thing had happened to me at the end of my tenure? At this stage in the long journey towards restoration, I am thinking a lot more positively, and really it is the beginning of a new phase of my life and the life of this community.”
The former Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois then recalled a poignant moment back in 1993 when he suffered a heart attack while visiting his brother in Kenya. Call it a premonition or a state of mind, but the former bishop saw, at that point - his beloved St Mel’s Cathedral back in Longford town - in ruins. “While I was in the hospital in Nairobi, I had a horrendous nightmare and I dreamt I was in the Cathedral and it was totally destroyed,” he said.
“It was so realistic, that I waiting for someone to come in and tell me all about what was a fter happening. On Christmas Day, 2009 my mind flashed back to that dream, and I believe now that it reflected by own state of shock and how wrecked I was within myself, and that I was applying that in some way to the Cathedral. The Cathedral will be restored by Christmas of next year, and we will all have happiness again.”
Dr O’Reilly then spoke of his predecessor William O’Higgins whom he said, “had a dream” to build St Mel’s Cathedral. He added, that despite all the obstacles that faced him, including famine and starvation, Bishop O’Higgins continued with his dream, and eventually St Mel’s Cathedral stood proudly in the heart of Longford town.
Dr O’Reilly pointed to the many challenges in modern life and how the hope and determination such as that exercised by Bishop O’Higgins, would help all of us to cope with life’s challenges.
“I do think that the challenges that we are facing now are harder than in William’s time,” said the former bishop.
“But I believe that we have great communities, and above all else we have the spirit of hope. Fellow citizens, I walk frequently in the Mall where I see the river travel, and they way it which it keeps going to its destination to the River Shannon, and we too are traveling a line. It is a line that is n’t always easy, but we must ask God to help us, so that we can achieve our goals.”
The Bishop then signed the Roll of Honour which includes just three others who have been bestowed with the Freedom of Longford - Michael Killeen (2005); Albert Reynolds (2007); Liam Mulvihill (2007).