Native tongue

Irish Festival to feature  Mass in Gaelic
By luke eggleston / SUN staff writer

The Gaelic language enjoyed a strong resurgence alongside the Irish nationalist movement spanning the 19th and 20th centuries. The language’s use had largely subsided during the previous centuries of British influence and outright imperialism. Since the Republic of Ireland’s foundation, Gaelic, or Irish, has been considered at least one of the nation’s official languages.

The Republic of Ireland has also long been strongly associated with Catholicism. Ireland is 86 percent Catholic.

In honor of Ireland’s traditional association with its people’s faith and their language, the Irish Festival in Syracuse will incorporate a Mass using the Gaelic language.

The Mass, which will be held at Clinton Square in Syracuse, is slated for Saturday, Sept. 8 at 10 a.m.

The celebrant will be Father Naos McCool, CSSp, of Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, a native of Ireland.

Adding the Gaelic-language Mass to the festival was the brainchild of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. The Irish Festival Committee had approached Hibernians and asked them for ideas that would make the event “more Irish.”

“The purpose of the Mass is to celebrate the faith and language that the Irish people fought to preserve through centuries of oppression,” said Steven Leyden, one of the festival’s organizers. “The language and faith of Ireland are inseparable. Both were made against the law by the English. Bringing a Gaelic language Mass to the streets of Syracuse will honor our ancestors and show the community that this festival is about more than just drinking, bands, and Irish crafts.”

Father John Ahern, the pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Liverpool, is involved in the Irish community. Growing up on the near west side in Syracuse, he was immersed in Irish immigrant culture since his youth. Father Ahern said that he played in the fife and drum corps as a youth and attended many Irish dances. Originally he attended Most Holy Rosary, however, the parish that he identifies with most is St. Lucy’s, where he celebrated his first Mass.

“It starts when you’re young,” Father Ahern said.

The 72-year-old Father Ahern has been the national chaplain for the Ancient Order of Hibernians seven times during his career and is currently the New York State deputy chaplain for the organization. On several occasions he has met with Irish presidents and has attended diplomatic functions relating to that country at the White House. He has been the chaplain for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Syracuse since its foundation.

Ahern noted that Christianity is integral to Irish identity.

“You don’t disassociate Ireland from Christianity,” he said, noting that St. Patrick was responsible for forging the Irish people’s common identity when he converted them.

While Father McCool will deliver his homily in Gaelic, a chorus will be available to translate it into English. Father Ahern does not speak Gaelic nor do many of the Irish-American Catholics expected to attend the Mass. The liturgy will not change except for the language. In addition to using the Gaelic language, the local Irish musicians and singers will perform the music and traditional Irish instruments such as harps, bagpipes and Uillean pipes will be featured. The readings will be in English, according to Father Ahern.

Father Ahern has heard the Mass in Gaelic twice, once while participating in an Irish festival in Frankfort, N.Y., in the Albany Diocese and then again while attending a national convention of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in California.

He emphasized that celebrating the Mass in Gaelic is a means of keeping people aware of their roots.

“The whole purpose is to celebrate our culture, heritage and faith,” Father Ahern said.

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