Putting the rev into reverend: clergymen on motorbikes
Three bike-loving clergymen find the pastime to be a good conversation starter and a way to unwind from a stressful job. In the words of one, ‘it’s just heaven’
Fr John Kearns at a memorial Mass for deceased bikers at the Sacred Heart Church in Clones, Co Monaghan. Photograph: Alan Betson
The 56-year-old was introduced to motorcycling while growing up in Corcaghan, Co Monaghan. “I’ve been at it since I was knee high to a duck. Daddy was into motorbikes.”
His father, Michael, owned several bikes over the years, from a Triumph Tiger 500 to a 50cc. He and his younger brother Frank had bikes “long before we were supposed to”.
Fr Kearns’s bike of choice since 1997 has been a Honda ST1100. His biker friends at home bought it for him while he was working as a missionary in Zimbabwe.
“The lads I’d have rode the bikes with could never understand me becoming a priest and certainly never understand me going to the missions.”
Before entering the priesthood, he worked with An Garda Síochána, Aer Lingus, and as a trucker. He is a member of the Boardlords biker group and attends rallies whenever he gets the chance. He has been based in Brookeborough, Co Fermanagh, since last September.
Fr Kearns is also on the organising committee of Gone but Not Forgotten, an annual Mass held in Clones to remember bikers who have died in accidents. He says the Mass highlights “the family aspect of the biking world”. It was attended by a record 2,500 people in May.
“Any fool can get a bike from zero to 60, it takes an experienced man to get it from 60 back to zero. It’s important to be aware of that and to be aware of how vulnerable we are on the bike and how a moment of madness can cause so much pain to the family at home.”
While he thinks certain accidents are avoidable, he believes smaller ones are par for the course. “No one can say they’re a biker if they’ve never had a tumble.”
His bike has proved useful to his work as it often acts as a conversation starter. “The young people could sometimes identify with you – the fact that you had a motorbike, you were a bit different from the normal Bible-under-your-arm priest.”
He believes people’s attitudes to biking have improved in recent times. “There are a lot more positive experiences of bikers now than there would have been, maybe, 30 years ago. They had a rebellious element to them back then, whereas now a lot of the clubs are involved in fundraising and charity work.
“People have met these lads face to face, so they’re beginning to realise that not every biker is the one that will tear the place apart.”
Rev Andrew McCroskery’s dream stretch is Route 66 in the US. At home he favours Kerry and the Sally Gap in Co Wicklow, especially in the summer months. He is a member of Gaelic Chapter Ireland – a club for Harley Davidson owners – but rarely attends events as they often happen on Sunday mornings. “That’s a major clash,” he laughs.
The 39-year-old is originally from Belfast, but grew up in Bangor, Co Down. He has been the vicar at St Bartholomew’s Church of Ireland in Dublin’s Ballsbridge since 2008. He uses his Harley VRSC a lot for work. “This parish is very scattered – there are people as far away as Meath and Wicklow. Irish weather isn’t conducive to biking most of the time, but I still brave it.”