Selfless priest who worked in the heart of troubled Belfast

Matt Wallace: 1943-2013

Fr Matt Wallace ministered in his adopted home city of Belfast for over 40 years.

Fr Matt Wallace ministered in his adopted home city of Belfast for over 40 years.

Sat, Jun 29, 2013, 08:31

Fr Matt Wallace, who has died tragically, was a Wexford man who gave selflessly of himself to his adopted home city of Belfast. He ministered there for more than 40 years, almost entirely in west Belfast.

That ministry covered many of the most marginalised. He worked with young people involved in anti-social behaviour, with those at risk of suicide, and in supporting families bereaved by suicide.

Prison crisis
For the past 20 years he was parish priest of Holy Trinity. The core of this parish was the Turf Lodge estate, which suffered greatly from the Troubles, unemployment and deprivation. He lived in the middle of the estate, was part of the community and a regular in the GAA club’s bar. He was active in the development of Holy Trinity boxing club and Gortnamona GAA club.

Fr Wallace’s ministry in west Belfast included the years of the H Block prison crisis. During the late 1970s and early 1980s he defied rules during pastoral visits to smuggle cigarettes and sweets to prisoners on the dirty protest. Recipients included prisoners who made it clear they had left the Catholic Church.

His ministry also included the years of the child abuse scandal in the church.

At its height, the bishops issued a letter to be read at Sunday Masses.

Fr Wallace instead told the congregation “if you are really interested in what bishops are saying you can read it for yourselves. We all know what the bishops should do. They should clear all this up. And if they are not prepared to do this then they should resign.”

Life in Belfast
Matthew Wallace was born in May 1943, in Duncannon, Co Wexford, the fourth of nine children to Phil Wallace, a farmer, and his wife Anne (née O’Shea). After primary schooling locally, he received secondary education at St Peter’s College in Wexford: then studied for the priesthood in the college’s seminary.

He was ordained in May 1970 for the Diocese of Ferns, and seconded to the Diocese of Down and Connor. With the exception of a few months in 1973-4, he spent the rest of his life in Belfast. The stress and overwork of those years took their toll, and his health failed last year.

He is survived by his sisters Kathleen, Bridget, Marie and Eileen: and brothers Jamesy, Willie and Bernard. His cousin, Mick Wallace, is a TD for Wexford. He was predeceased by his brother Joe.

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