Two Irishmen receive Catholic Church’s highest honour for services to music

Previous Irish recipients include John Hume and tenor John McCormack

Pope Francis has awarded the honour of Knight of the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St Gregory the Great to two Irishmen with a long track record in church music.

Dr John O'Keeffe is director of sacred music at St Patrick's College in Maynooth, and Ronan McDonagh is choral director at Dublin's Clarendon Street church and founder of the choral group Fuaimlaoi.

The Pontifical Equestrian Order of St Gregory the Great was established in 1831 by Pope Gregory XVI and is the highest honour awarded by a pope, usually in recognition of services to or support for the church. Until 1994, only men received the award.

Previous Irish recipients include John Hume, tenors John McCormack and Frank Patterson, UCC academic Alfred O'Rahilly, and former governor of the Central Bank Maurice Moynihan.


In 2010 Dr Margaret Downes, the first female director of Bank of Ireland, received the female equivalent award of Dame Commander of the Order of St Gregory the Great for services to St Mary's parish on Dublin's Haddington Road.


Awards of KSG knighthoods to Dr O’Keeffe and Mr McDonagh marked the 50th anniversary of the Schola Cantorum, an initiative of the Catholic bishops set up to train church musicians and attached to St Finian’s College in Mullingar. Both men are among the Schola Cantorum’s most distinguished lay past pupils.

Dr O'Keeffe directed the music during the 2018 papal Mass in Dublin's Phoenix Park while Mr McDonagh is one of Ireland's leading organists and has performed for many years at Clarendon Street church where he is musical director since 1990. It was there he founded Fuaimlaoi in 2006 "to promote and develop liturgical music that grows out of our native tradition".

They were invested with the knighthoods at Mullingar's Christ the King Cathedral by Bishop of Meath Tom Deenihan.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times