Pictured following the Ecumenical Service at St Sillian’s, Tyholland, were (L-R) Bishop Noel Treanor, Catherine Wilson, Bishop John McDowell, Rev Betty Thompson, Monsignor Joseph McGuinness and Niall Hughes.

Speaking notes for Address delivered by Most Rev Noel Treanor, Bishop of Down and Connor, at the Annual Pentecost Ecumenical Prayer Service held on Sunday 4 June 2017 in St Sillian’s Church, Tyholland.

  1. Deep down things – transcendent whisper of embowered silence


When Eileen Gallagher extended to me some weeks ago the invitation to join the annual Ecumenical Prayer Service for Pentecost, organised over a number of years now by the Church of Ireland and Catholic dioceses of Clogher at the initiative of their respective bishops, I was delighted by the news that St Sillian’s Tyholland, this ancient and eminent ecclesiastical site, had been chosen in this year of 2017.

I wish to thank Bishop John McDowell, Bishop of the Church of Ireland diocese of Clogher and Monsignor Joseph McGuinness, Administrator of the Catholic diocese of Clogher and also Administrator of the parish of Tyholland, for the invitation to address this historic gathering. Many among you are neighbours of my youth, friends on the pathway of life and fellow Christians. It is a joy to see you all here at St Sillian’s, and among us too Dora Redpath (née Breakey, who lived years of her youth in the Rectory with her parents, Jack and Gertie), her sister Hillary and her husband David and so many of you who have maintained this Church in exemplary fashion.

Among you I see not only the faces of my youth. Through you I see on the film of memory the faces and features of so many neighbours who now rest in Christ in this Churchyard. With them we are all bonded in continuing to cherish this historic and hallowed site. And we gather on this feast day of Pentecost in response to the movement of the Spirit of God into whose Easter new life we are baptised. Through baptism we all share the name and identity of being Christians, and live together a common faith in the person of Jesus Christ in our respective confessional and ecclesial traditions.

Today, Pentecost Sunday 2017, in this five hundredth anniversary year of Martin Luther’s 95 Wittenberg theses, we gather here in this cemetery where Christians of our different confessions, Protestant and Catholic, have been laid to rest over the centuries. Here graves for deceased family members and friends were dug together by neighbours of both traditions. This Tehallen grave-earth, spaded, pick-axed and shovelled in the shade of yew-tree and the once embowered laneway approaches to this still and silent churchyard, somehow whispered a vision of Christian “deep down things”, (G.M. Hopkins), that enabled many of our forebears to sense, feel and know the reality of our spiritual unity in Christ as a mysterious and saving truth beyond the categories of human demarcation. This enabled them prophetically to transcend in life, charity and lifestyle the divisive vagaries of history. Thus, with its inclusive burial tradition  St Sillian’s Churchyard and the congregation of this Church kept alive the divine embrace of Pentecost which motivates diversity to seek unity, otherness to seek community and Christians in dissension to search for understanding and what St Paul in the first reading refers to as, “the good purpose” (1Cor 12:7).


2. Pentecost : “all were given to drink into one Spirit” (1 Cor 12:13)


This collaborative Clogher diocesan ecumenical initiative to mark Pentecost, a pulsar moment in the Christian calendar, was imagined by Bishop Joseph Duffy and Bishop Michael Jackson in the opening years of the new millennium. Beginning in its first years on the historic fort at Clogher, their shared interest in the figure of St Macartan, patron of the dioceses, and their respective sense of the historical significance of Christian faith in the moulding and shaping of culture, history and the fibres of society led to the annual moving (the peregrination, to adopt a term from the early centuries of Irish and insular Christianity) of this Prayer Service around the historical churchyards of the dioceses on Pentecost Sunday.

In this initiative there is a profound insight of pristine and quintessential Christian quality. For the Pentecost experience, the subject of the readings from the New Testament that we have read and heard this afternoon, whispers to us of crossing boundaries. They speak of community and unity emerging from diversity, difference, divisions. In a salutary, counter-historical and prophetic way, this Tehallen churchyard gave permanent ecumenical witness in its reception in death of those born to the new life of the Resurrection.

These annual Clogher Services are an invitation to recall and celebrate the fact that through Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist / Communion Service, as St Paul says, “we were given to drink into one Spirit” (1 Cor 12:13). It is therefore a blessing for the entire community of Christians and a prophetic sign for both society and our political orders that this initiative, rooted in our local history, in our culture as fertilised and enriched by so many diverse elements and in our common Christian tradition, has continued each year under the guidance of the bishops of the dioceses and with the support of diocesan and local personnel and communities. For as individual persons, as a society and as bodies politic, we have in our contemporary world, and here in deepest Ireland, a growing need for the spiritual capacity, for that combined rational and emotional Christian intelligence capable of discerning the call of the sacred and the holy in all life’s moments.  

Sites such as St Sillian’s on this hillside, steeped in the religious and Christian heritage and tradition of Ireland and of universal Christianity, are living symbols of a religious and cultural tradition charged with a hidden energy of meaning for a future that stretches out beyond our lifespans and beyond our time-bound predictions.   


3. St Sillian’s Tyholland  : the religious and cultural heritage of this holy ground

In terms of human history, in this twenty first century we are at a loss to know the conditions of life in this region at the time of Christ and of the Pentecost experience. These drumlins had probably received the early traces of the Ui Meith people. Traces of early human life, existence and work have been found in the area along the valley of the Blackwater. In any event, with the arrival of Christianity to our shores, a process involving a pre-Patrician litoral phase which expanded into the country and into the structures of society in the Patrician era, this spot in the townland of Templetate became a centre of significance for Christian life.

The history of this place and of Tehallen/Tyholland deserves scholarly and inter-disciplinary research involving disciplines such as, archaeologists, geographers, specialists in Latin, Hiberno-Latin, early Irish, hagiographers and historians. The fruit of much research is available to us and it is a blessing that the Clogher Historical Society and its members, individuals associated with St Sillian’s congregation (Jack Storey), research students (Gary Carville) and in particular Bishop Joseph Duffy with his skills in Celtic languages, Latin and the intricacies of early Irish history, have all generated a body of scholarship which secures knowledge of the importance of this site for posterity.

We shall have to leave it to specialists to pursue the discussion on the etymology of Tehallen/Tyholland and on the identity of Cillin/ Cill(i)an, / Sill(i)an, considered to be a disciple of Patrick. Likewise, its possible topographical echoes and associations in other place names, as for example in place names such as, Knockatallon, or Cailn, near Fenagh Co Leitrim[1], are subjects for late evening academic and interdisciplinary ruminations.   As for the prefix Ti- /Tigh – / Ty – , which evokes the notion of a house, it is worth noting that in early Irish usage in the religious context, it is possible that Ti was also used to refer to a monastic settlement[2].

As for the site itself, where we are now gathered, one of the earliest and most significant references to Tyholland, and to this Church site, is to be found in the late ninth century Tripartite Life of St Patrick :

“Therefore Patrick went to the district of Hui Meith tire in Tigh Thalan. Patrick left bishop Cilline there, and aged folk of his household besides and relics of ancients which he had brought with him overseas from the east”.

Honey-combed with quarries of mysterious allusion, we should not miss in this text the evocative reference to the east and the wealth of cultural, historical, theological and monastic resonance carried by this geographical allusion. This is a rich subject for another day!

Another early and intriguing reference to Tyholland is to be found in the Leabhar Breac :

“and Patrick went from there into the territory of the Ui Meith in Mennait Tire and he visited not Armagh at that season, and holy elders of his household he left at Tigh Thalan”.

From both references it is clear that Tyholland and specifically this site and the community associated with it, were of major importance for the Patrician movement. As is pointed out[3] in the forthcoming publication, “Monaghan History and Society, Interdisciplinary Essays, History of an Irish County”, edited by Patrick J Duffy, the Leabhar Breac homilist “goes out of his way to accord Tyholland the privilege of a visit (by Patrick) in preference to Armagh”. The author of the essay also remarks incisively that “few, if any Churches are favoured with a donation of relics as Tyholland” and reminds the reader that in medieval Europe the possession of relics was a token of the highest honour and a recognition of the ecclesial importance of the Church community to which they were gifted and which held them.

The developments of later centuries and up to modern times are outlined in works of local history, published and unpublished, and may be researched through the Church of Ireland archives. The sixteenth century Reformation saw the transition of the site to the Church of Ireland with the retention of burial rights by local families of the Roman Catholic tradition which has continued until modern times. There ensued the developments of the following centuries and the mid-nineteenth century Great Famine, when according to local oral tradition, corpses of the dead were thrown over the walls of the Churchyard[4].

In terms of the site as we find it today, St Sillian’s Church was rebuilt in 1788 and over a thirty year period between 1834 and 1864 further restoration work was undertaken to install a new gallery and stairs (1844). In this respect it is interesting to recall that some decades ago when neighbours of the deceased Thomas (Tommie) Wright were digging his grave on the south side of the present St Sillian’s, they unearthed foundation walls of an earlier Church building[5].

The Rectory or Glebe house dates in its front part from the eighteenth century (1730s?), whilst the rear Regency style addition dates from the early nineteenth century (1830s). The Tyholland school, where I had my first encounters with the school doctor and nurse, was duly flanked by the Ulster canal which operated from the early 1840s until 1929. Its construction changed the entrance to the Rectory to the winding avenue, we know today.

Beyond the history of the buildings associated with St Sillian’s, it is worth recalling the congregation’s association with the Anglican minister and hymnist, Henry Francis Lyte (1793 -1847)[6], author of religious poems and hymns, chief among them the well-known hymn, “Abide with me”. He married Anne, daughter of the Reverend Dr William Maxwell and his wife, Anne, of Falkland castle. Oral tradition in the area suggests that Rev Lyte and his wife lived in the area in the 1830s and that they rented a house in Cavanreagh from the Campbell family.

Likewise, Francis Lennon, a scion of the Lennon family, whose family were buried here as late as the 1960s, became a priest of the diocese of Clogher. After teaching for a short time at St Macartan’s College, Dr Lennon was appointed to St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, where he was Professor of Mathematics and Physics (1864-1912). There he pursued front-line research in physics and well as being renowned for his golden voice, musical talents and interest in musical theory[7].

Yet another figure of interest whose name features in the parish records is one, Alexander Williams (1846-1930), of Lower Groves, born in 1846, an artist, whose painting, “Sunset over Dublin Harbour”, was exhibited at the 1893 World Fair in Chicago[8].  Williams was a first-cousin of the physician, Sir William Whitla, born in Monaghan, to whom the 1949 Whitla Hall, Queen’s University, Belfast, is dedicated.

Figures such as Reverend Lyte, Dr Lennon and Alexander Williams stand as witnesses to the power of Christian faith to inspire contribution to culture, science, technology, enterprise and the arts.

4. Pentecost 2017 in Templetate in the global village

 Like those who have gone before us on the way of faith and are buried here in this graveyard, we all leave an imprint, personal and collective, on the living history of our community, society and body politic.

On this Pentecost Sunday 2017, gathered here at St Sillian’s, Templetate, it is salutary for each of us, as individual persons before God and before society, to open our minds and hearts to the promptings of God’s Spirit, as revealed through Jesus Christ, and to recall in the New Testament words of St Paul that we have all been given the same Spirit to drink (1 Cor 12:13). That Spirit is the power and spiritual energy of an incarnate faith, the Christian religion; this same Spirit missions each Christian in every generation to make concrete qualitative difference through the work of their mind, hands and hearts.

In our global village, now menaced by violence in our cities, by wars, by climate change and its effects on the ecosystem, by the urgent need to develop respect and historical understanding and reconciliation between peoples and cultures, we, Christians, have a shared and urgent responsibility to re-appraise ourselves of the irreplaceable contribution our faith heritage and tradition can and must make to shaping a saving view of the world, an anthropology, a humanism, which generates hope, spiritual energy and reconciliation with the ballast of history for the “good purpose”, as St Paul puts it, (1 Cor 12:7), or “the common good”, as understood in Christian Social thought, for present and future generations. To make this vital contribution to society and to human history, as Churches and ecumenically we shall have need of “the Advocate”, referred to in the gospel reading (Jn.14.15-16, 23-26) of this Ecumenical Prayer Service.

This is and will remain for decades to come a particularly challenging priority for the Christian community and its Churches in Ireland as we, and the weavers of meaning in the media, the arts, business and the sciences, grapple with the profound and rapid cultural and social transformations which have moved us in the course of less than half a century from a relatively homogenous, predominantly agricultural and rural cultural matrix to a pluri-cultural information society which is seeking out with other peoples and nations its purpose and destiny in the emergent cyber world.

In this context it inevitably seems that “the centre cannot hold”, and that “mere anarchy is loosed upon the world” (W B Yeats). For some, betimes indeed for us all, the old ways no longer seem to serve a purpose!

Yet, let’s bring into focus and imagine the seismic shifts navigated by the first followers of Christ, as glimpsed in the New Testament literature of Acts and the Pauline and Johannine letters : the trauma of Calvary and their post-Calvary deception, their slow re-grouping and re-appraisal of their experience of Jesus of Nazareth and of the Risen Christ, their grappling with issues arising from their morphing Jewish cultural and faith identity and the testing dynamics of encounter with and insertion into the Greek, Roman, middle eastern and oriental societies. In the vortices of such epochs of change, cultural encounters and transformations, the Christian tradition, imbued by the personalised revelation of God in Jesus of Nazareth and carried forward in worship and charity in time, both falteringly and heroically, has manifested a capacity to contribute significantly to moulding and shaping the spiritual, ethical and moral tissue of culture and society. With God’s help and the contemporary re-awakening of Christian and ecumenical renewal, Christians will do so in our challenging times.

In responding to these challenges of shift in culture and foundational paradigms of thought and sensibility, as followers of Christ we are empowered by many developments which have invisibly, slowly and profoundly shaped Christian sensibility and renewal since the early twentieth century. Key among these developments were the Edinburgh Missionary Conference (1910), the Second Vatican Council (1959-1965) with its Decree on Ecumenism, the work and collaboration of theologians and scripture scholars, the immensely significant output of the Anglican-Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) which has been in operation since 1969 and the three European Ecumenical Assemblies[9] held in Basel (1989), Graz (1997) and in Sibiu (2007). In this same vein current research by historians, theologians and biblical scholars in our Christian traditions is producing refreshing, non-polarised insights into the life and work of Martin Luther as a reformer who enriched the entire Christian tradition, notwithstanding the divisions ensuing on his work in western Christianity, due mainly to cultural and societal factors well beyond his control and intentions as a theologian and friar. This research will contribute significantly to the growth and promotion of ecumenical understanding and witness.  The reception, i.e, the process of absorbing, knowing and feeling in our attitudes, the transformative significance of these developments in the Christian tradition is of profound importance for both the Churches and for society. The process of reception, as it is known in theological terms, is not a passive process. Like gardening or farming, it is a process that entails cultivation, careful and investigative tending of shoots, trial and error and exchange of ideas to deepen understanding.  Our public discourse in this twenty-first century – at all levels from the most local to the international – is in urgent need of re-discovering and re-appropriating the religious dimension of the human condition.

So as we celebrate Pentecost 2017 together on this mound and ancient Christian centre in Templetate in the diocese of Clogher, may our collective and ecumenical prayer be :

  • that in the Spirit of the Risen Christ, who opened the minds and the eyes of the Apostles on the road to Emmaus, we may re-awaken to the beauty and historic significance of this place in local history and in the history of Ireland
  • that we may cherish and protect this ecclesiastical site for posterity
  • and that as a Christian community we may work for peace, justice, reconciliation and the integrity of creation in our time.


Noel Treanor

Bishop of Down and Connor

Pentecost Sunday : 04 June 2017



[1] Here I draw on research based considerations expressed by Dr Joseph Duffy, retired bishop of Clogher.

[2] Aidan McDonald, in D. Ō Corráin (ed), Irish Antiquity, Notes on Monastic Archaeology and the Annals of Ulster, pp.304-320.

[3] Patrick J Duffy (ed), Monaghan History and Society, Interdisciplinary Essays, History of an Irish County, Geography Publications, 2017, p190.

[4] I am grateful to Doris Wilson for this information.

[5] The late Eddie McGonnell, a fountain of local historical knowledge, topographical detail and lore, one of the local men who dug the grave, recounted this to the undersigned. Robert Wilson, Monaghan, reports that his father held that the present Church building is the third on the site. Archaeological excavation, or future technology, may allow future generations to unveil the works and building of the centuries of life and worship on this scenic drumlin.

[6] For biographies, see : Henry J Garland, Henry Francis Lyte and the Story of Abide With Me, Manchester, 1937 ; Basil Garret Skinner, Henry Francis  Lyte, Brixham’s Poet and Priest, 1974 ; John Appleyard, Henry Francis Lyte, A Short Biography, 1939. His own works :  Poems Chiefly Religious ; The Spirit of the Psalms, 1834.

[7] See J Healy, Maynooth College, (1795 -1895), Brown and Nolan, 1895 ;  Patrick J Corish, Maynooth College 1795 – 1995, Macmillan, 1994 ; articles published by F. Lennon in The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, e.g : 1888, 1889,1891,1893,1910. Some mathematical and scientific papers by Lennon are still extant.  

[8] Here I am indebted to the research (unpublished) on parish records carried out by Jack Storey.

[9] These Ecumenical Assemblies were co-organised by the Conference of European Churches (CEC), which embraces the Anglican, Reformed and Orthodox traditions and by the (Catholic) Council of the Episcopal Conferences of Europe (CCEE). The theme of the Basel Assembly (15-21 June 1989) was : Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation ; the theme of the Graz Assembly (23-29 June 1997) was : Reconciliation, Gift of God and Source of New Life ; and that of the third Assembly held in Sibiu, Romania, (4-9 September 2007) was : The Light of Christ Shines on all : Hope for Renewal and Unity in Europe.

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