President praises ‘original pioneers’

Missionaries were Ireland’s first ambassadors in Africa, says Higgins

Irish missionaries were Ireland's original pioneers in Africa, President Michael D Higgins has said in Malawi.

Six Irish missionaries with long service in Africa were honoured at a special private dinner in the capital, Lilongwe, on Wednesday night, attended by President Higgins and his wife, Sabina.

“Ireland’s original pioneers and ambassadors in Africa were our missionaries, who began to arrive here in Malawi at the beginning of the last century,” President Higgins said at a reception for the Irish community in Malawi.

He was “always amazed” in their travels by the number of people whose lives have been changed by “ the education and health services which are the legacy of these selfless, dedicated and committed individuals,” he said.

The legacy of such people “continues today through the inspirational work of their successors here in Malawi and across the globe,” he said.

Irish Ambassador to Malawi Aine Hearns hosted the private dinner.

The guests included Kiltegan priest Fr Gus Frawley, who has been in Malawi since 1970 after being expelled from Biafra during the war.

Other Kiltegan priests included Fr Frank Taylor and Fr Pat Byrne, who serve in Lilongwe, and mathematics professor Fr John Ryan. Absent was Fr Fiachra Cotter, who is on leave in Ireland and Fr Padraic O Maille, honorary consul for Malawi in Ireland, who was deported by a previous regime in Malawi for advocating democracy.

The other two missionary guests last night were Sister of Charity Sr Imelda O'Brien who has been working on pastoral development in Malawi's southern Thyolo district for the past two years. Previously she had served in Zambia for 33 years and for nine years in Nigeria.

The remaining missionary guest was White Father, Fr Brendan O’Shea who is involved with the Mua Mission in central Malawi, one of the oldest Catholic missions in the country.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times