Garda checkpoints were erected close to Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Mullahoran, Co Cavan, on Sunday as parish priest Fr PJ Hughes said Mass in defiance of the Covid-19 regulations.
The 10am mass was delayed for about 20 minutes with many locals detained at the three Garda checkpoints erected on the roads into the church, which is in a rural part of the parish.
Fr Hughes said he was furious having got a call from a local man who was prevented from getting to the church.
“The guards attacked me and accused me of spreading the virus,” he claimed beforehand.
“A guard told me that I was putting the lives of elderly people at risk. It’s a sad day that three Garda cars are circling around this church. Have they nothing else to do? God help us.
“It is our faith that brings us here and they told me that I wasn’t reading the statistics and didn’t know what was going on. I told them I did not accept the negative message being poured out by RTÉ. It’s not fair.
“This is sectarianism. This is against our faith. It’s a sectarian act against our Catholic Church encouraged by the Government who don’t believe in God anymore.”
Fr Hughes likened the Covid-19 Level 5 restrictions – which mean all religious services, other than funerals, can be held online only – to the penal laws and Oliver Cromwell. He admitted he had “no friends in the Church” and the bishops did not want him saying Mass.
Twenty people turned up for the Palm Sunday service and they were well spaced out in the church where every second pew was roped off.
During his homily, Fr Hughes told them to turn off the news and focus on the events of Holy Week.
“Our faith in God is being challenged by statistics and by so many people who want us to live according to their creed,” he said.
“It is a challenge to somehow balance our faith with everything else that is going on in the world. I encourage people to turn off the television, turn off the radios and any negative news.
“Negativity does not fit along with faith. There is no hope in negative news. We are being destroyed.”
Fr Hughes wore a mask while distributing Communion. Some of the congregation wore masks too.
Sheila McManus from Drumshanbo, Co Leitrim, turned up a half-hour early for Mass with some palm branches to be blessed. “It is our constitutional right to go to Mass. It is lovely how he leaves everything up to the people and leaves the church open for them.”
James Ryan from Donamon, Co Roscommon, who attended with his wife, Anne, said: “Jesus told me that I can go to Mass. Jesus Christ will protect me. Gardaí won’t protect me . They are stopping good honest people going to Mass. Priests have a vow to Jesus Christ first and foremost not to the bishop.”
A Garda car turned up to the church afterwards. One local man, who declined to give his name, remonstrated with two gardaí in the car and said he could not get to Mass.
“A man of the cloth is not to be interfered with. It’s wrong. The first person you’ll want is the priest who baptised them and the last person you’ll want on your death bed is a priest,”he told them.
“That church can hold 500 people. It’s the staple of the community. We have a Constitution in this country and our constitutional rights are being denied by the forces of law and order. They are laughing at us.”
Fr Hughes has already been fined €500 for hosting an illegal gathering, but he said he will not pay it.
Several people had offered to pay it for him, but he has declined, stating he had done nothing wrong and a Mass is not an illegal gathering.
Fr Hughes said he had asked for “right-wing groups” to stay away from his Mass.
At the end of the Mass, a prominent member of the National Party turned up. He said he had been detained at a checkpoint and prevented from attending the service.