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Hundreds turn up to vigil against transfer of Donegal priest

Up to 300 people lit candles and recited the rosary outside St Columba's Church in Kilmacrennan

Some of the large crowd who gathered at KIlmacrennan in protest of the moving of Fr Paddy Dunne form the parish.

Fr Paddy Dunne

Stephen Maguire

Hundreds of people have turned up to attend a vigil against the transfer of parish priest in Co Donegal.

Up to 300 people lit candles and recited the rosary outside St Columba's Church in Kilmacrennan to voice their concern at the transfer of Fr Paddy Dunne.

Fr Dunne, who has been based in Kilmacrennan for the past 13 years, is being moved to become the parish priest in Kilbarron in Ballyshannon.

But parishioners in Kilmacrennan have urged the Bishop of Raphoe, Bishop Alan McGuckian, to reconsider the transfer.

People from across various churches in Donegal as well as the local Ukrainian community turned out last night to voice their concern.

More than 2,000 signatures have now been gathered appealing to Bishop McGuckian not to transfer Fr Dunne.

The Letterkenny-born priest has become a huge part of community life in the area in recent years.

He most recently supported neighbouring priest Fr John Joe Duffy following the Creeslough tragedy last October which claimed the lives of ten people.

Last night's protest was organised by locals with hundreds of more signatures being gathered on a petition which will be presented to Bishop McGuckian in the coming days.

The Bishop has said he understands the pain of the community to lose a much-loved priest and how painful it is for priests to move on.

He added that the outpouring of sadness in the community is a tribute to the priest and the people and their relationship.

But he added that he has a responsibility to 33 parishes in his diocese.

Speaking at last night's vigil, local county councillor John O'Donnell described Fr Dunne as a "gentle giant" who was an 'absolute legend' in the parish of Kilmacrennan.

Fr Paddy Dunne

He urged church authorities to reconsider their planned move in the case of Fr Dunne.

He said "We're all here today to show our solidarity to Fr Dunne and to show Fr Dunne how much he has meant to us and to show how much we appreciate the service he has given us over the last thirteen years.

"All we can do now is to hope and pray that the decision will be overturned and that we will retain our parish priest because we are not looking for anything but just to be left alone.

"He has brought all the parishes together and he has definitely regenerated this town especially over the last thirteen years.

"We are all here tonight for Fr Paddy in our prayers and it is important that we keep Fr Paddy in our prayers because he has a challenge in front of him with the plan to move him to another parish.

"As parishioners we are speaking our minds and we stand united here tonight to show how much he means to us and how much we want to retain our parish priest. That is all we want - to leave the unbroken left alone."

Also present on the night was another local county councillor, Ciaran Brogan, who also voiced his support to allow Fr Dunne to remain in Kilmacrennan.

Councillor Brogan said for him the Ballyshannon move is "a wee bit far.'

"I think everyone is shocked really. Fr Paddy Dunne had that special connection with so many young people especially. IT was a time when young people were flocking to mass and the online service during Covid.

"He has done so much for so many not just in this area but because he had that special connection with people in and around Letterkenny that he was available in all the parishes in Letterkenny, in Glenswilly, Glendowan, Ramelton, Milford, wherever he was always there in their hour of need.

"For me personally the Ballyshannon thing is a wee bit far. He would be a huge loss to people. Everyone has a special connection with him and you can feel that sense of loss this evening and it's very evident.

"I have met people I have not seen in a while here and that also shows the strength of the community which is so important."

Councillor Brogan said he cannot remember a similar scenario of a community getting so upset about the transfer of their priest in his lifetime.

Asked if he thought Fr Dunne's move was a 'done deal' he said he simply did not know.

However, he added "I cannot speak for the workings or the willings of the church but I would like to think that somebody, somewhere would take some notice of this because a church is like so many other organisations in that it is only as good as its people and there's an awful lot of good people in there.

"It is not an easy job or an easy vocation and I think it is important that sometimes, as a community, we show our appreciation for the challenges that they have."

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