Fr Seán Ó Gallchóir: 50 years of serving his community

FATHER Seán Ó Gallchóir will enjoy a quiet time with his family this Sunday to mark the Golden Jubilee of his ordination to the priesthood.
Parish Priest in Gortahork, Fr Seán was ordained in the old St Mary’s Church, Derrybeg by Bishop Anthony McFeely on June 27, 1971.
The eldest son of the late Johnny Sheáin and Mary, ‘Aileach’, Cotteen, Derrybeg, his brother Fr Colm is Parish Priest of Killybegs while another brother, Fr Cathal spent many years working in Japan and is now ministering in South Dakota.
They will come together with his sisters Maire (Dublin), Patricia (Celbridge) and brothers Peadar (Derrybeg), Noel (retired principal, Pobal Scoil Ghaoth Dobhair), Pól (retired director-general of TG4), Joe (Monaghan) and Ciarán (Dublin) to celebrate Mass in Derrybeg on Saturday.
Coronavirus restrictions mean that larger events marking the milestone are not being held.
Fr Ó Gallchóir’s time in the priesthood has coincided with many important events in local life.
In particular, in January 2019, his support and pastoral care to those affected by a road traffic accident which claimed the lives of four young friends in Gortahork was widely acknowledged and appreciated.
Speaking to the Donegal News this week, he says reaching the 50th anniversary of his ordination is an important milestone.
“I have no regrets about the choice I made to join the priesthood all those years ago. I suppose, looking back, maybe I could have done some things better but I would like to think that I did the best with what gifts I had been given,” he said.
Earlier this year, Fr Seán was named as a recipient of the GAA’s President’s Awards – Ghradaim an Uachtaráin – and he is synonymous with every facet of GAA in Donegal through coaching, refereeing, Scór competitions and administration.
A former pupil of Cnoc an Stolaire NS (where his father was a teacher) and Ard Scoil Mhuire in Ghaoth Dobhair, he went to Maynooth from 1963 to ‘67 and Irish College in Rome from ‘67 to ‘71. Apart from one year, when he went to Mount Oliver in Dundalk to do a course in Catechetics (1974) his ministry has been in Donegal.
Fr Seán began teaching in Holy Cross College Falcarragh the same year he was ordained. He taught Irish, history and religion.
He also coached and managed gaelic football teams within the school who enjoyed unrivalled success in Ulster from 1974 -1986.
Fr Seán was an active and well-respected referee in Donegal and Ulster. The pinnacle of his refereeing career was to officiate in two County Senior Finals as well as being the man in the middle in the Ulster Minor Final in 1982 when Antrim were the victors over Down.
He was an avid follower of Scór competitions and has been active in the Cultural side of the GAA all through his life. Fr Seán wrote many plays and dramas which were used by competing teams in Scór competitions.
He is renowned for his most celebrated book, the Book of Donegal GAA Facts, which has just seen its seventh volume published in 2020.
He has had various other books published on subjects such as History and the Irish Language but another book of note which he has had published relating to GAA is: “The Story of the Donegal Senior Football Championship 1919 -2001” (2002).
He is currently the Honorary President of CLG Chloich Cheann Fhaola.
“I was in Falcarragh between 1971 and ‘92; Cnoc Fola from ‘92 to ‘99 and I’ve been Parish Priest in Gortahork since then so I haven’t been moved around too much. I’ve also been very lucky that both my parishes have been Gaeltacht areas and all publications were written in Irish which made things much simpler,” he said.
When Fr Seán first came to Gortahork there were two curates, one of whom was based on Tory.
“They’re both gone which adds to my list of responsibilities,” he said.
The role of the priest is also changing.
“Covid has been massive. With all the restrictions we couldn’t interact with people in their homes, in hospital or in the nursing homes. We were lucky here in that we had cameras already in place in the church but it was tough and lonely at times, especially during the winter months, when it was difficult talking into a camera. There was some consolation that people were participating in their homes and were able to keep in touch. Thank God there’s been a bit of an improvement recently,” he said.
One of the most satisfying  elements of the job is that he has been able to celebrate the sacraments – Communion, Confirmation and marriage – in the local community.
“We had a couple of weddings here last weekend and it’s always great to see that enthusiasm and joy that comes with that,” he said.
Unfortunately, death also forms very much part of life’s cycle and Fr Seán has had to preside over the funeral of his parents, his two sisters, Mairead and Maeve, his brother-in-law and two nieces.
“Apart from burying loved ones there are two other traumatic events which I can recall. The deaths of those four young lads killed in that crash – two of them from the parish – is something that never leaves you.
“The other one was when I was in Portugal for my niece’s wedding and news came through that Seamus McGeidigh (Station manager with Raidio na Gaeltachta in Derrybeg) had died suddenly. That took the heart out of the community here in a big way. They say that no one is irreplaceable but some are harder to replace than others. Seamus’s contribution to the local community, current affairs, the Irish language and sport was immense,” he said.
“Others deaths, like those of my colleagues Fr Kevin O’Doherty and Fr Hughie Sweeney in recent years hit hard too,” he admitted.
Earlier this week, Fr Michael Herrity made a presentation to him on behalf of the Cnoc Fola community where he served before moving to Gortahork as both were celebrating a funeral mass in Cnoc Fola.
“It was totally unexpected and out of the blue but it was a nice surprise,” he admitted.
He has been receiving cards and messages and phone calls of congratulations from far and wide.
Sad note
“People have been so good to me down through the years in my ministry. One particular sad note though has been the clerical child abuse cases in the diocese over the years. It has cast a big shadow. A lot of people suffered and are still suffering. That was a terrible cross for so many people to have to carry,” he said.
Looking forward, he says that he hopes to continue working for as long as his health allows. He celebrates his 75th birthday next month.
“In a way Covid has made things a little bit easier as we’re not out and about as much. Also, as time has gone by I’m no longer as involved in the five schools in the parish as I once was. Through the various boards of management I’ve worked with some great teachers and I’ve received great support through the years.
“A lot of good people give their time generously and freely. I wish to thank them all for their help and support,” he said.

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