Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for your warm welcome here today to Ballinasloe.  Some time, late last year, Bishop Kirby told me that in August 1858 the new St Michael’s Church in Ballinasloe had been opened.  He went on to say that the Preacher on that day was none other than Cardinal Nicholas Patrick Wiseman, Archbishop of Westminster, England.  Having heard that, it wasn’t difficult to guess what the next question would be – would I like to come here today and join all of you on this happy occasion as you celebrate 150 years of your venerable and beautiful Church. 

I have to say that I was very happy to accept that invitation for many reasons.  First of all, out of respect for Bishop Kirby himself, whom I have known for 51 years, ever since we were students together in Maynooth.  In more recent times, of course, as Chairman of the Executive Committee of Trócaire, Bishop Kirby has shown tremendous commitment and dedication to alleviating the needs of the developing nations of the world.  I am also glad to come here also out of affection for my many classmates, in Maynooth, from the diocese of Clonfert. 

When we went to Maynooth 51 years ago, in September 1958, my classmates on that day included:
•    Fr Christy O’Byrne, PP, Laurencetown,
•    Fr Benny Flanagan, PP, Carrabane,
•    Fr John Naughton, PP, Eyrecourt
•    and the late Fr Paschal Donohoe. 

I moved to the Irish College, Rome, in 1960, so also did Paschal, and for the next four years we walked the streets of Rome and tramped up and down the Seven Hills together.  The late Paschal used to take great delight in regaling us with stories of life in the West, in Galway, in the diocese of Clonfert in Garbally Park.  His descriptions of rugby and hurling contests had us believe they were equal to anything that took place in the Circus Maximus or the Roman Coliseum and, of course, there were some tall stories from the marts and fairs of Ballinashoe.

During my 13 years on the staff of the Irish College, Rome, from 1980 to 1993, it was my privilege to celebrate the weddings of a great number of Irish couples in Rome.  Many of those couples are from the diocese of Clonfert and they were always gloriously happy occasions.  Many is the time that the walls of Roman restaurants shuddered to the strains of the Fields of Athenry.

I feel greatly honoured by the decision of the Urban Council to grant me a Civic Reception.  Your agreement to this proposal, ladies and gentlemen, to mark my visit here today, to your lovely town, is a most gracious and delightful one.  I am well aware that you are honouring me in my capacity as Archbishop of Armagh, Primate of All Ireland and successor of St Patrick.  I am very proud to accept this honour.  I thank you most sincerely for it.  I am pleased to bring you greetings and good wishes from the City of Armagh and indeed from the diocese of Armagh.
I wasn’t lucky enough to be born in Co. Galway, a county so famed in song and story, in history and poetry, but I come from a county where there is huge respect for the citizens of this noble county.  Of course the displays of Galway teams in Croke Park, both in hurling and football, on so many occasions have added to that respect immensely.  Your footballers gave another such display last Saturday and were rather unfortunate not to have won.

I have a lot of admiration for people, like yourselves.  People who put themselves forward for local government elections.  Members of my family, on both sides of my family, were elected to such positions.  I think such willingness is essential for the survival of democracy.  I wish you well in your deliberations, great wisdom in your decisions and, of course, I wish continued success and prosperity to the citizens of Ballinasloe.