ON Tuesday next, Archdeacon William McMenamin Pastor Emeritus (PE) will mark the 60th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood.
The 86-year-old priest will commemorate the milestone by celebrating Mass with his family.
“The good Lord took good care of me and safely guided me through all those sixty years,” Fr Willie said.
Ordained on the Feast of Corpus Christi on June 16, 1960, Fr Willie spent one year in Raphoe before moving to Ardara (4 years). He arrived in Letterkenny in 1966, where he stayed until 1982, before taking up his position of Parish Priest in Drumoghill, a post he held until his retirement in 2011.
The only son of Frank and Mary Kate McMenamin from Rathmullan, Fr Willie has six sisters Mrs Mary McAteer (Rathmullan), the late Mrs Una Boyle (Portnoo), Mrs Kathleen Cullen (Convent Road, Letterkenny), Mrs Brid O’Sullivan (Coolboy), Ann Boyle (Woodlands) and Sr Patricia (OLA Convent, Cork).
“I was the only son but don’t be saying that I was spoiled. I always fought my corner,” he laughed.
Living in Raphoe since 2011, Fr Willie had hoped to throw open the doors to his home to family and friends next Tuesday but the coronavirus has stopped those plans.
“Normally, we would have had Mass followed by a hooley and whether we’ll have one later on God only knows. You can’t even have one hundred people in the chapel given the times that are in it. I was looking forward to the celebration but the virus has changed everything and we have to play it low key. With Covid it will now just be an evening with my family,” Fr Willie said.
Educated in St Eunan’s College, Letterkenny and then Maynooth, Fr Willie was one of sixty-five men who were ordained to the priesthood in 1960 and one of three from Donegal alongside Fr Anthony Griffith (Ballintra) and the late Fr Thomas Rocks (Rathmullan, OFM Cap).
Appointed to Raphoe to assist the then Parish Priest, Canon Bernard Cunningham, who was ill he was then moved to Ardara to help another priest who had been in poor health, Dean Boyce.
“I buried two Parish Priests in six months before Paddy Molloy was appointed in Ardara. I didn’t bury him,” he laughed.
Moving to Letterkenny in 1966, Fr Willie was appointed Administrator of St Eunan’s Cathedral in 1974, a position he held until his appointment as Parish Priest in Drumoghill. He was also Director of the Raphoe Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes from 1970 to ‘84.
“They were busy times (Cathedral) but I had a great team with me – John McLoone, Kieran McAteer, Paddy Kerr and Danny McBrearty. We all got on well,” he recalled.
In 1960, Fr Griffith’s uncle in Glenswilly drew up a list of all the priests of the Diocese giving their date of ordination.
“That list had nearly one hundred priests names on it. The first name on the list was Dean McGinley who was ordained in 1898 and I was the last name on it. Today, there’s only four of us left,” he said.
“We need to be getting some new blood in but, unfortunately, they’re not coming forward,” he added.
A talented footballer in his younger days, Fr Willie admitted that he had to play under an assumed name on more than one occasion.
“Playing soccer was frowned upon in those days and I was the first ordained priest in the Diocese who played soccer. I was followed a short time later by Fr Dan Doherty, Fr Eddie Derry and Fr Mick Sweeney,” he recalled.
A member of the Swilly Rovers team that won the FAI Junior Cup in 1962, Fr Willie’s team mates in the fifties and sixties included Letterkenny’s Liam Blake and former Cllr Ian McGarvey from Ramelton, together with former Dail Deputy Harry Blaney, his brother Teddy as well as Jim Kennedy, Eunan ‘Busty’ Blake and Charlie ‘Bovril’ Collins – all RIP.
Fr Willie was a curate in Ardara in 1962 and didn’t know until the morning of the FAI Junior Cup final whether or not he would be allowed to play with Swilly Rovers.
“I found out after the eight o’clock mass that morning. I then rang them in Dublin to say that I was on my way. Frankie Brennan (a former Donegal GAA player and Ardara businessman) drove me up. He went to the Down v Dublin National League game in Croke Park and then came across to Dalymount Park to see the last half hour of our match in spite of the ban. We were back in Ardara again that night,” he recalled.
Not allowed to use the local GAA facilities in Ardara to train, Fr Willie used Narin and Portnoo Golf Club and its surrounding sand dunes to keep himself in shape.
“I was allowed by my parents to play in the Rathmullan Cup in 1949 and then throughout the fifties there were some fantastic summer cups. I played most of my football with Rathmullan but in the summer cups you could play for Letterkenny one day and Kerrykeel the next – as long as you hadn’t played in that cup with another team,” he said.
His friendship with Jim Kennedy saw the pair team up to take part in the 1970 Donegal International Rally.
“Jim worked with Donegal Oil and they were the sponsors. He wanted to drive and asked me to be his co-driver. We had a Hillman Hunter and did 25 of the 31 stages. I went a few times after that with him,” he said.
A talented golfer, Fr Willie enjoyed a weekly four-ball with Fr Kieran McAteer (PP Stranorlar), Fr Austin Laverty (PP Ardara) and Eunan Laverty up until a few years ago.
“The knees were giving me a bit of bother but I might try and get back out once more when the restrictions lift,” he said.
In the meantime, Fr Willie keeps himself fit by doing a three kilometre loop near his Raphoe home three or four times a week.
“I used to walk through the town but I haven’t been back in since Covid. Again, I hope to be able to walk through the town once more in the not too distant future,” he said.
Capped at Junior International level, many believe that Fr Willie could have made a successful career cross channel with Glasgow Celtic among his many suitors in the fifties.
“It was said that I could have played senior football and that teams were looking for me but I’ve no regrets. The good Lord took care of me and saw me through,” he said.
“I hope that this virus lifts soon and allows us all to get out a bit more and I would ask that everyone keeps up the prayers. I was set that good example at home years ago. The Rosary had to be said before you went out to play football and it didn’t us any harm,” he said.
On June 16, 1960 the Manor Band led Fr Willie’s homecoming into Rathmullan following his ordination.
Celebrations might be a little more muted on Tuesday next but everyone will no doubt join together in wishing Fr Willie well as he marks sixty years in the priesthood.