Passion play resonates with many feeling abandoned by life in modern Ireland – The Irish Times

Much like Christ on the cross, Father Frank Fahey believes many people in Ireland are feeling “abandoned” at a time when the impact of evictions, war and social media exposure is clearly being felt.

The retired priest was among those who gathered in the grounds of Ballintubber Abbey in Co Mayo for three nights this week as the annual passion play highlighted “the chronic disconnection in today’s society”. It has been 35 years since Father Fahey created The Triumph of Easter – a drama involving dozens of men, women and children from the parish.

The crucified Christ asks: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

A chorus of the poor replies, “My God, my God, why have you left us?”

There is a penetrating resonance to the sequence as it repeats itself several times, culminating in Christ asking, “My people, my people, why have you forsaken me?”

“Many people feel abandoned in this world and disconnection from one another has become a critical issue, in part due to the proliferation of social media,” Father Fahey said.

“So many no longer speak to the people next to them because they are absorbed by the social media that so often feeds them false realities. Today, many of our young people live without hope and some even commit suicide.”

Referring to the housing and homelessness crisis, he added: “The government must continually address the helplessness, neglect and loneliness of those affected by evictions. It’s not enough that our wonderful volunteer organizations fix this.”

Father Fahey, former Mayo Man of the Year, also noted that “some people materially expect too much of the world and feel neglected when they fall short of a certain standard of living.” He said the Passion Play celebrates “this universal search for meaning beyond material things”.

“It is also important to remember that the Passion does not end with the crucifixion, but with the resurrection of Christ, the central symbol of Easter.”

For Con Lydon, who has played Jesus crucified from the start, it was heartening that the small community of Ballintubber gave a resounding ‘yes’ to the play’s return after a two-year hiatus due to Covid-19 restrictions.

“Last year we thought we were going to have a big problem getting the play started again,” he said, explaining that local support for it was soon arriving. “After so many years, people have gotten used to it and it has become an integral part of our preparation for Easter.”

There are 70 players in the production, and many more members of the 800-strong community help organize the logistics of the performance.

“The audience for the three evenings of the presentation came from across the province and beyond. In fact, we’ve had a busload from Belfast every year since its inception,” Mr Lydon said, adding that “the community’s commitment is vital to the future of the church and in this case Ballintubber Abbey”.

Founded in 1216 by King Cathal Crovdearg O’Conor, Ballintubber is known as ‘the Abbey that refused to die’ for the constant celebration of masses within its walls. It survived the royal edicts of Henry VII, the destruction of Cromwell and the penal laws.

In 2019 the abbey received a €2.7 million grant for a €3 million project to develop an interpretation center in the east wing, which is in ruins. Work on the project is due to begin next January, but significantly, an original church, possibly dating from the time of St Patrick, was uncovered during the archaeological survey of the site.

Seamus McCaffrey, who played a crucifying soldier for the second time in the Passion Play, said that everyone involved takes the play “very seriously, even if they’re a little crazy.”

“My daughter Saoirse, 12, also plays one of the angels and loves everything,” he said.

Seán Hayes, a veteran in the play, was there from the start.

“The play has probably never had greater relevance and always brings us back to basics,” he said. “Everyone complains, but most of us have never had it so good.”

Dais Johnston

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