Home News Community Growing friendship sees Daniel and Majella O’Donnell open Rathdowney community gardens

Growing friendship sees Daniel and Majella O’Donnell open Rathdowney community gardens

A friendship that flourished over 35 years between the parish priest of Rathdowney Fr Martin Delaney, and Daniel O’Donnell, will see the renowned singer and his wife, Majella, officially open the town’s new community garden on Wednesday, June 28.

“Daniel and I have been friends for 35 years. Back in the 1980s I was asked to work in a parish in the north of England called Scunthorpe,” explained Fr Delaney.

“The housekeeper in the presbytery where I lived was from Northern Ireland. Marie kept talking about this great new Irish singer from Donegal who I had very little awareness of.

“Anyway Daniel was coming to give a concert in Lincoln which was about an hour from our parish. Marie persuaded – maybe even bullied – me to bring her to the concert. I was not a huge fan of Irish country music but for a peaceful life, on I went.

“What I had not bargained for was that after the show Mr O’Donnell would wait to meet all his fans and sign autographs.

“Marie insisted on us joining this long queue and we must have been at the very end of it because Daniel had all the time in the world to talk to us,” he said.

“A conversation began that night which has become a wonderful friendship over the years. Last Christmas that same housekeeper, Marie celebrated her 80th birthday and Daniel came with me to surprise her at a party in England,” Fr Martin recalled.

“Since I came to live in Rathdowney eleven years ago, Daniel has offered to help with a number of fundraising projects in the parish.

“We have had a few memorable concerts in the church at Christmas time and back in 2019, Daniel and Majella took part in a celebrity cooking demonstration with Kilkenny chef Edward Hayden. This was to raise funds for the community garden which we are now opening,” he said.

“When Daniel staged his Christmas Spectacular for three nights at the Convention Centre some years ago, he invited the Rathdowney Parish Choir to be part of the show.

“Last year Daniel included the local anthem ‘Lovely Rathdowney’ in his most recent album. He then donated 100 copies of the album as a fundraiser for Rathdowney Parish St Vincent De Paul.

The community garden opening will get underway at 2pm when popular local singer, another Martin Delaney, will begin the afternoon’s entertainment. The blessing of the garden will take place shortly after 2.30pm.

The blessing ceremony will be led by the Catholic and Church of Ireland bishops of Ossory, Dr. Niall Coll and the Right Reverend Adrian Wilkinson. Both bishops have just been appointed in recent months.

While Bishop Wilkinson has already celebrated Confirmation in Rathdowney in May, this will be Bishop Coll’s first official visit to the parish. The two new bishops have come to Ossory from opposite ends of the country.

Bishop Wilkinson spent 20 years working in Cork before becoming bishop earlier this year. Bishop Coll has spent most of his ministry teaching in Belfast and working in parishes in his native Co. Donegal.

The Donegal flavour to the afternoon of celebration in Rathdowney will continue following the blessing when Daniel and Majella O’Donnell officially launch the community garden.

Majella O’Donnell has done significant work in recent years around mental health awareness.

One of the aspects of the new community garden in Rathdowney is that it will be a place of quiet reflection. In her contribution at the opening ceremony, Majella will highlight the value of such reflective spaces for promoting positive mental health.

When the formalities have been completed and weather permitting, the musical entertainment will continue with Martin Delaney, the local parish choir and no doubt a few songs from the gas boiler specialist – Daniel O’Donnell – himself.

The new community garden is located at the site which in recent years has been known locally as ‘the shrine.’ It was originally the location of the old Catholic Church begun in 1818.

It was the first Catholic church built within the town of Rathdowney since the Reformation. The first Mass was celebrated in the new church on Christmas Day 1820.

In the early 1950s the church was replaced by the present Holy Trinity Church. The church at the shrine was demolished. Over the years some efforts have been made to develop the shrine area and these included the erection of the statue of Our Lady and the provision of car parking spaces.

To mark the bicentenary of the building of the church, a local development group embarked on a project to develop the shrine area as an amenity for the entire community.

The project encountered many challenges, obstacles and missed deadlines. Covid 19 scuppered the plans to have it completed for the 200th anniversary of the opening of the original church.

However, persistence pays off and the garden was designed by Wexford-based landscape architect, Derek Howlin and the work was carried out by local contractor, Michael Madden, assisted by Kieran O’Dea.

Kieran also carried out the first phase of the project which involved building a new grotto using the stone originally used in the building of the church back in the late 1800s.

In the coming years and as funding streams become available, further work will be carried out to enhance the space.

Bishop Coll will begin his first visit to Rathdowney by celebrating Mass at the Church of the Holy Trinity at 11am.

This Mass is open to everyone and will include attendance by the students and staff of the local Scoil Bhride primary school. After Mass, Bishop Coll will meet young people from Errill and Rathdowney schools who celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation earlier this year.

Meanwhile, Daniel who plays golf and bridge, will take part in a gala charity bridge competition at Rathdowney Golf Club on the day of the opening.

Entry is limited to 30 tables so pre-registration is essential. Many of the tables are already booked. To register, text or call  John on 087 2111809 or Martin at 086 2444594.

SEE ALSO – Leaving Cert Diary: Lighting candles, Elizabeth Bishop and aspiring for survival

Previous articleLaois man appointed to key role with top Welsh rugby club
Next articleAre you single? First Dates matchmakers are seeking Laois singletons
Caroline Allen is a freelance journalist based in Portlaoise. She has written for numerous local and national publications and lives outside Portlaoise with her husband Martin and sons Evan and Colin