I realised the power of the clergy because when Jane Mansfield did come to Tralee in April 1967 to the Mount Brandon hotel to sing 6 songs for a thousand pounds.
She never got to sing her 6 songs because of undue pressure as the bishop of Kerry and the parish priest of Tralee objected to her appearance on moral grounds. On the night in question the excuse that was given to the media was that her backing band got stuck in Portlaoise on the way from Dublin.
A large crowd had gathered outside of the hotel including myself. We had to be satisfied to breathe the same air as Jane for about 10 seconds. She stayed the night and left for France the next morning with a thousand pounds in her purse. I can only imagine how long I would have to work to earn that much money. In many ways while the clergy won that battle in Tralee they lost the war. Their actions left a bad taste in the mouth especially among young people.
Tragically Jane Mansfield was to die in a car crash a few months later in America and candles were lit in Tralee for the poor woman. I felt disgust when the clergy took my money for masses for her soul. I never heard her name mentioned again. It was as if she never existed.
Following that Jane Mansfield debacle, I developed a keen interest in trying to understand how it was that the clergy had such an undue influence on the daily lives of their flock. I had first noticed that phenomenon when walking with Brother Price down Rock Street at aged 10. Men and women would step of the footpath, with a tip of the forehead and wearing false smiles. Brother Price seemed to expect such deference. Each year there were three major events marked in the calendar in Tralee Duffy’s circus, the Rose of Tralee and the Missions, which usually occurred on the first week in October. Everybody was expected to attend and be in possession of a rosary beads which they could purchase outside the church for a nominal sum.
The parish priest on introducing the reverend Alphonsus O Grady, a Passionate Father from Limerick, told the brief story of Father O Grady’s life. The Lord in his wisdom had favoured him because of his filial devotion to the most holy rosary with a vocation to the priesthood. Father O Grady is supposed to have saved over 100,000 souls in Nigeria, from his labours in the vineyard over a 40-year period. I had said hundreds of rosaries over the eight years I had spent in St Josephs, and I was not so fortunate to catch the eye of heaven. Maybe I was a second-class citizen even then. When I laid eyes on him, I knew that the craic would be mighty. He graced the floor as if he had wings, weighted down with the armoury of the rosary beads that went from one side of his giant girth to the other. A large cross swung from his hip like a gun.
I hoped he would discuss the subject of sex which had caused quite a flutter for many of the young people of the town a few months earlier. None of us were to be disappointed. He spoke with a certain overfamiliarity on the subject. I wondered how he acquired such knowledge? Like Father O Neill in St Joseph’s, he seemed to get quite agitated on the subject. The reverend Father blamed the evil influence of the television TV that was coming into homes all across the land for the decline in morals. The clergy believe it was a tool of the devil. Discernment was advised by parents over what their children watched on TV. He lamented the lack of the family rosary and the increased obsession with materialism. As for the music like that of Tom Jones, Elvis Presley and that infernal Mick Jagger, it would be the ruination of the country, if it wasn’t kept in check. The poor man was working himself up into a terrible state of anxiety. I feared that he would be too exhausted to finish out the week.
Most of us looked forward to the last night of the mission. The topic was ‘the examination of conscience’ which seemed to make us giddy as in chorus we shouted yes yes yes when asked did we renounce Satan and all his prompts. The roaring and shouting of his quivering voice as it reached its highest crescendo made the hair stand on the back of my neck. I could see that some older people became frightened when he roared – ‘beware dear people that death could steal up upon you this very night and find you unprepared’. I fancied that Father Alphonsus would be adding a few more souls to the 100,000 he had already saved in Nigeria for Christ.
Satisfied with his weeks work the very reverend Father Alphonsus descended the pulpit to applause as he blessed the beads of outstretched hands and made his way to the confessional. Many of those assembled in the pews were of an older age group. When your only 16 anybody with a grey hair on their head looks old. Poor Father O Neill never even got a clap after his sermons in St Josephs. As I left the church, I was nearly run over by the number of young people who exited before me. There were dozens of rosary beads left behind in the pews at the back of the church.
I now understand what the glue was that enabled the clergy to hold such sway over the lives of so many. It was fear. I could see it in many of the faces as they were praying fervently waiting for confession. I felt a deep revulsion at the callous way the clergy made those people feel. That contrasted with the low numbers of young people maybe one or two who waited for confession.
How ironic it seemed to me that the influence of the clergy was focused on a generation they already controlled and less on the future generations. Their refusal to recognise this would lead to their downfall. Jane Mansfield came to mind.
(c) Michael Clemenger
About Everybody Knew:
Michael Clemenger was handed over as a baby to the unloving care of a religious-run children’s home. Aged eight, he was transferred to St Joseph’s Industrial School.
Chosen as their ‘favourite’ by two Christian Brothers, Michael endured years of sexual abuse at the hands of both men. Brother Price struck at night, while Brother Roberts took pleasure in a weekly bathtime ritual. Although everybody at the institution knew, even the two Brothers’ ‘protection’ did not save Michael from merciless beatings by other sadistic men charged with his care.
Despite the unbelievable trauma of his early life, Michael emerged unbroken and determined to make something of himself. Everybody Knew is a story of remarkable spirit and courage.
Order your copy online here.