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Homily at the 50th Anniversary o


               of Archbishop Dermot Clifford
       Anniversary Mass for the late Canon John Hayes
                   Bansha Parish Church
                     29th January 2011

“May   you live in interesting times”. This is a Chinese curse and it came to mind
during the past week as did Harold Wilson’s observation, “A week is a long time in
politics”. It certainly has been a roller-coaster for our people over the last ten days.
If all the Irish patriots who are said to be turning in their graves over what is
happening really did so, there would be an earthquake! What would Canon Hayes
think of it all? I am told by historians that this is not a legitimate approach in the

I do know that Canon Hayes never allowed the subject of party politics to be
discussed at meetings of Muintir na Tire or in fireside chats during rural week. So, I
will not go there today, as they say, but I will quote another Chinese proverb which
was a favourite of Canon Hayes. “It is better to light a candle than to curse the
darkness”. I am sure that the older generation often recall it in conversations with
their contemporaries when Canon Hayes’ name comes up. I expect you tell your
grandchildren about him and try to describe this great parish priest who served here
in Bansha & Kilmoyler for just over ten years – May 1946 to January 1957.

But how to describe him is the problem! You would need to have seen him, to have
heard him in full flow in a sermon or address to a meeting, to appreciate his
charisma, his enthusiasm which was infectious, his simplicity, his sense of fun, his
love of God, his love of neighbour and of his country. He was a “once off”, a
“natural”. His friend, assistant and admirer, Dr. Thomas Morris, my predecessor,
wrote that Canon Hayes was less successful in print than on platform and must
appear at some disadvantage when presented merely as a voice or a pen; there
was more to his personality than could be communicated by either medium. Here
he is in the eyes of his friend, Liam Maher:
       “He was a born orator, gifted with a sense of drama and a grasp of his
       listeners’ capabilities. A child could follow his arguments – and children loved
       him. He could move his audiences to sadness or enthusiasm with the flow of
       his words and the fire of his sincerity. He never spoke above their heads and
       avoided the false diction so common to the sanctimonious. He allowed no
       barriers of style or technique to come between him and his listeners and he
       spoke not at them but to them. In this he had much in common with Father
       Theobald Mathew whose career shows many parallels with his own.”

I am at a disadvantage myself since I was only eighteen when he died, but I knew
that he had been in St. Brendan’s College, Killarney where I was a boarding student
for the Rural Week of 1956. Unfortunately, it was held during the holidays so I
didn’t see him. But his address at the end of the week was one of the best of his
life and his last farewell as it happened.

Most of you will also be at the disadvantage of not knowing Canon Hayes
personally. Fifty-four years seems a long time to most of you! Four years seems a
long time to children who don’t remember the wonderful centenary celebrations
here in 2007. But coming up the end of the twentieth century there were many
debates and discussions as to who had been the best politician, the greatest hurler
and footballer, the best writer and so on over the past one hundred years.

I would contend that the Priest of the Century was Canon Hayes of Bansha. The
Archbishop of Tuam disagrees; it was Monsignor James Horan, P.P. of Knock he
claims! I might add that the greatest priest of the previous century (the 19 th
century) was also from this Diocese – Fr. Theobald Mathew, from the next parish of
Golden-Kilfeacle. His 150th anniversary occurred on December 8th 2006.

It is worth mentioning in this context that it was Canon Hayes who organised the
centenary celebrations for Fr. Mathew at Thomastown Castle in 1938. Mass was
celebrated outside the walls of the castle. Canon Hayes was a life-long Pioneer. He
would have been deeply touched to think that his 50th anniversary is being
celebrated so worthily here in the Church of the Annunciation today.

Unlike Fr. Mathew, John Hayes was not born in a castle. This is how he used to
describe his childhood in his addresses:
      “I was born in a Land League hut at Ballyvoneen, Murroe, Co. Limerick on
      11th November 1887. My father and several other tenant farmers were
      evicted by Lord Clancurry in 1882. Soldiers and police surrounded the house.
      My mother, with a child in her arms, was driven from her home. The
      household effects were thrown out on to the road…the roof was pulled
      down…the young father and five children went out into the unknown.”

The Land League built a hut for them a mile away, a kind farmer giving a site, and
it was here John was born in 1887, five years after the eviction. He spent his first
seven years in this three-roomed wooden construction, a poor imitation of a house.
Five of the children died in this cold hut with only a stove to provide for heat and
cooking for a large family. It was only the help of the neighbours who rallied round
at all times which enabled them to survive for twelve years without land. The Hayes
family lived in that hut for twelve years before they got their farm back.

But this experience of hardship and suffering was to be the foundation of his
philosophy on land, good-neighbourliness and community spirit, “muintereas” for
life. He attended the National School at Murroe and then he and his brother, Mick,
went to the Jesuits’ Crescent School in Limerick. I have no doubt that the young
people of today will assume they went on the school bus! That was over eighty

years away! No, they travelled the twelve miles from Murroe to Limerick with a
jennet and cart! Two and a half hours each way! They left home in the dark and
returned in the dark once again in the wintertime.

John felt called to the Priesthood and he entered St. Patrick’s College, Thurles
where he spent two years. He was known as the “Poet Hayes” in St. Patrick’s
because he composed verses, mostly humorous. He was sent to the Irish College,
Paris, in 1907. He used his time very wisely there, learning French and getting a
feel for French life. He read French newspapers and spoke French eloquently, if not
grammatically always! Later, he was to study projects in rural development in
France and Belgium and replicate them in Ireland. His “Rural Weeks” and his
“Fireside Chats”, so beloved of Muintir members, were inspired by researches into
French and Belgium experiments and movements especially “Borenband Belgique”.

After ordination in 1913, he had a number of temporary missions in Meath and
Wexford, and later in Liverpool from 1915-24. He was very active in the caring for
the poor and the young. But it was his contact with the Irish emigrants in Liverpool
and their appalling working and living conditions which fired him up to try and find
ways to keep our people at home on the land or in some form of industry in rural

He was in Liverpool for the 1916 Rising but he became a great admirer of Padraig
Pearse. His brother, Mick Hayes, found himself in Wormwood Scrubs for an attack
on Murroe Police Barracks. He and one hundred and fifty other Republican
prisoners went on hunger strike. Fr. John was refused permission to see his brother.
So, he began to recite the Rosary at the prison gates. Soon, he was joined by a
large crowd of sympathisers, including priests. Speeches were made. Then a
London mob attacked them. A battle royal ensued! “The Battle of the Scrubs” was
in the headlines and Fr. John Hayes got honourable mention in the Daily Mail. “A
priest calmly recited the Rosary as the battle raged.” He had Republican
sympathies but he was opposed to violence and he worked for peace with justice.

The giants at his shoulder were therefore Michael Davitt, Archbishop Croke who
gave stout support to the Land League, and Padraig Pearse. Canon Hayes wrote:
      “Far from breaking with the past we are inspired by the unselfish ideals of
      such patriots as Dr. Croke, Michael Davitt and Padraig Pearse, and it is from
      them that we have learned our concept of the “new” Patriotism.”
Incidentally, Archbishop Croke confirmed John Hayes.

While in Paris as a student, he met Archbishop John Ireland of St. Paul, Minnesota.
The Archbishop had worked for years settling Irish emigrants on the land in
America. It could be said to have been his life work, it could be said to have
become a large part of John Hayes’ life work also. Both were years before their
time. This was what Archbishop Ireland advised seminarians and young priests:

      “The greatest danger for the clergy is pessimism, despair,
      discouragement…The priest must become more of a layman and the layman
      more of a priest…The strength of the Church in all countries is the
      people…Go out, gentlemen, go out from the sanctuary. Be in church, but

      don’t be there all the time. Go into the arena. Speak about agriculture in the
      country, about shops in the city, speak about the temporal interests of the
      people. Make use of the natural…It is not sufficient to offer working men
      happiness in heaven; they have a right to expect happiness on earth…You
      must go to the people, you must fight with the proper weapons in order to
      have success in this world; you must win your way by the sympathies which
      the world asks for…Priests should be the first apostles of social justice.”

Father Hayes had yet another model in the great American prelate. He was aware
of the debt due to this pioneering Archbishop and he frequently quoted him in his

The Catholic Church arrived “breathless and late” to show its concern for the
working class after the Industrial Revolution. Pope Benedict XVI admits this in his
first encyclical Deus Caritas Est: God is Love. “There were”, he said, “some
pioneers, such as Bishop Ketteler of Mainz (+1877), and concrete needs were met
by a growing number of groups, association, leagues, federations and, in particular,
by the new religious orders founded in the nineteenth century to combat poverty,
disease and the need for better education. In 1891, the papal magisterium
intervened with the Encyclical Rerum Novarum of Leo XIII. It came to be known as
The Workers’ Charter. This was followed in 1931 by Pius XI’s Encyclical
Quadragesimo Anno.

Quadragesimo Anno came in 1931, forty years after Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum (Of
New Issues) and Fr. John Hayes studied it carefully in order to implement its ideas
together with those of the Borenband Belgique – the thriving movement for the
education, the spiritual and the material welfare of the agricultural population,
aiming to make them an educated, independent and powerful Christian class.

The Encyclical Quadragesimo Anno stressed the “principle of subsidiarity”, namely,
that the State should not take over services which could be provided by the people
at lower level, the family, the community, the vocational organisations. Our Senate
was set up on the basis of vocational panels. The E.U. adopted this principle of
subsidiary as a core principle, but it does not always live up to it in practice.

This principle was expressed in simple terms – the terms Canon Hayes would love.
      “The State which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself,
      would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the
      very thing which the suffering person – every person – needs: namely, loving
      personal concern. We do not need a State which regulates and controls
      everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of
      subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from
      the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those
      in need. The Church is one of those living forces: she is alive with the love
      enkindled by the Spirit of Christ. This love does not simply offer people
      material help, but refreshment and care for their souls, something which
      often is even more necessary than material support. In the end, the claim
      that just social structures would make works of charity superfluous masks a
      materialist conception of man: the mistaken notion that man can live “by

      bread alone” (Mt 4:4;cf.Dt 8:3) – a conviction that demeans man and
      ultimately disregards all that is specifically human.

Pope Benedict goes on to say that the Church has the duty to organise its charitable
services, diaconia in Greek. He recalled the ordination of the seven deacons in the
Acts to look after the Greek widows in Jerusalem as the first formal social service
for the poor set up by the Church. He praises the growth of volunteer work today
and especially when young people are involved, as it constitutes, “a school of life
and offers them a formation in solidarity, offering not only material aid but offering
their very selves.” “The abuse of drugs is countered by such unselfish love…”

When examining the life of Canon Hayes, it strikes me that almost all the big events
of his life seemed to occur in years ending in seven! Born 1887; founded Muintir na
Tíre 1937; switched on the electricity for Bansha-Kilmoyler in 1947 (or was it 1948?)
and died in 1957. The radio recording of Canon Hayes turning on the switch in the
hall here in Bansha is a precious piece of the social history of rural Ireland. A first
for Bansha-Kilmoyler!

Canon Hayes founded Muintir na Tire in 1937 as a Community Development
Movement. It was based firmly on the parish. The Parish Council was composed of
elected members from the local areas representing the farmers, the farm labourers,
a very important group for the Canon, the professional and business people and the
women, all forming “one big parish family” as he put it, working in harmony for the
good of the whole community. “We are endeavouring to obtain the amenities of life
for the hardworking woman in the homestead” he wrote. Muintir na Tire built parish
halls to enable country people to enjoy a social life in their time off. Meetings,
dances, concerts and so on were part of local life. The closure of many of the
regular meeting places of the people in rural Ireland in recent decades, such as the
creamery, the post office and shop and very recently the public houses has left
many old people isolated and lonely in their homes. Some people, including
coroners, believe that these changes are one of the causes of the dramatic rise in
suicides among the elderly in recent years.

The Civil War was still a source of serious division in every towns land, not to mind
every parish, when Muintir na Tire was founded in 1937. There were also sharp
divisions of social class, inequalities of status, class distinction and outright
snobbery in some cases. He wanted all these to be set aside and replaced by
“muintereas”, community spirit. He resolutely refused to write down a policy
statement! It would inhibit the growth of the movement, he said. “The one thing
that puzzles most people about Muintir” he wrote “is its simplicity.” In a homely
metaphor, he explained, “Parish differs from parish as head differs from head and
the same hat will not fit all heads and, if worn, might only produce headaches”! In
short, Muintir na Tire was about putting the Gospel into practice, rather than
making policy statements. These were already in the Gospels.

The parable of the Sower was very well chosen for today’s Mass. It recalls one of
Canon Hayes’s favourite sayings: “The Land League was the spring-time when
seeds were sown with labour and suffering.” Our Lord’s story was a down to earth
one. The sight of the lone farmer spreading the seed from his shoulder bag was a

familiar sight in the Ireland of his time as it was in Palestine in Our Lord’s time. I
recall it myself in Kerry long ago in case you think it was all singing and dancing!
The only difference in farm practice was that in Palestine, in Our Lord’s time, the
seed was spread first and only then was the plough used to cover it over with soil.

The moral of the parable is that the farmer was not put out in the least by the harm
which would be caused by the birds, the lack of soil or the rocky patches, the
scorching sun, the thorns – the lot. The sower went out to sow his seed! The
sower had vision and hope. He hoped for a bumper crop in spite of the set backs
and his hopes were not proved false.

Canon Hayes was also a man of Christian hope. He met indifference and he met
opposition. Some of his colleagues were cool, as were some bishops, a minority
and, of the older generation, let it be said. In the words of Mark Tierney:
      “Above all, Canon Hayes was a man with a vision. He was an outstanding
      person, possessing a singleness of purpose. Like all pioneers, he had to face
      obstacles and difficulties. Deep down he was an optimist, who always hoped
      for the best. His faith in God was unwavering. He also had faith in the Irish
      people. He taught them the importance of local patriotism, centred on the
      parish, and motivated by a sense of neighbourliness and self-help. He left
      behind him a legacy which has outlived him. Muintir na Tire is his
      monument, not carved in stone, but in the hearts and minds of the people of

“Failure has its value too” he said. “It should not lead to discouragement. It can be
a guide for future activities.” Muintir na Tire was always short of funds but he
believed the good people would not see them short and they didn’t. Canon Hayes
addressed the students of Maynooth each year and the seminarians and young
priests of the 1940’s and 1950’s regarded him as their ideal priest, their role model.
These young priests became the founding Chairmen of Muintir in their parishes later

Muintir na Tire grew rapidly and guilds sprung up all over Ireland, North and South.
Canon Hayes travelled to them all, up and down the country, always returning to his
presbytery in Tipp Town or Bansha whenever possible. When at home, he had a
procession of visitors, many of whom were from abroad, others from the parish.
His housekeeper, Margaret Daly, had such patience that someone said she should
be put into the Canon of the Mass! But she never failed to produce the dinner or
supper at short notice and, with a smile!

Canon Hayes began to fail in his final years. Dom Mark Tierney felt that the
Archbishop of Cashel, or indeed the Bishops of Ireland, should have released him
from parish duties and made him full-time Chairman of Muintir. “In reality” Fr.
Tierney writes, “Canon Hayes never felt proper recognition for his work as founder
of Muintir na Tire. He could not fulfil the dual role of P.P. and Chairman of Muintir.
He literally killed himself with work. He only had the salary of a parish priest. He
depended on the offerings of his parishioners. His early death resulted from burn
out” Fr. Tierney concludes.

But, according to the biographer Stephen Rynne, this exact proposal was made to
him by Archbishop Kinane but Canon Hayes would not hear of it! Being Parish
Priest of Bansha & Kilmoyler was essential to his identity. To be solely director of
an organisation would be like suspending him in a void. Priestly work was the pulse
of his life. Being parish priest of Bansha-Kilmoyler was therefore just as important
to him as being Chairman of Muintir na Tire. They went hand in hand. Where
would he be without his beloved people of Bansha-Kilmoyler?

On one occasion when he was chairing a meeting in Cork, a young man proposed
from the floor that a portrait should be painted or that at least a sculpture should be
commissioned to carve a bust of Canon Hayes. The Canon laughed heartily, “Let’s
go on to the next item. I’m bust enough already.”

Canon Hayes left his mark on this parish and in scores of others throughout Ireland,
North and South. The spirit of good neighbourliness was very evident during the
snow this winter when Muintir came to the rescue of neighbours who were unable
to leave their houses. Community Alert is in operation for many years now to
protect vulnerable people in rural area against criminal attacks. Today’s initiative
shows that Muintir is still very much involved in the lives of our people.

I wish you every success. As I said, at the outset, it would not be legitimate to
speak on what Canon Hayes would say about the priest crisis here in Ireland today,
fifty-four years after his death. But, listen to what he said when he was alive and in
the full of his health:

“I wish to stress the spiritual force of Muintir na Tire. It is that spiritual force that
has brought us into it and retains us there. We are called upon to make sacrifices.
Our rural people especially are asked to make sacrifices. We believe that the
burden must be borne by all. Our farmers and their essential co-operators, the
agricultural labourers, will play their part, but they must get their part also in the
national wealth that they create. A united rural community is the only hope for a
successful issue for our people.

Urgency for a greater volume of production must not injure human values. The
nation must not look upon the countryside merely as a source of food. Unless the
social aspect is considered, we shall have depopulation and the exile of the
producer. Planning for more food must go hand in hand with the lives of the people
who produce it. The ultimate good of a people cannot be sacrificed to material
progress alone.

It is a duty of a nation to see that rural life is prosperous. A poor rural life will
mean a poor nation. In prosperity, Muintir na Tire will give a true direction; and if
depression should come upon us, then more than ever shall we need a united rural
people. Depression often hits the producers too directly; we must see to it that a
prepared people will not permit such a disaster.

Mar buile scoir; the Chinese word for crisis includes danger and opportunity!


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