Boyhood in the 1940/50s Ballinasloe
by Declan Burke
Tenebra is a Latin word which means "darkness".
Life in Ballinasloe in the 1940s was intensely intertwined with that of the rhythms of the Catholic Church. As I remember it, Tenebrae occurred toward the end of Lent when a large number of priests gathered in St Michael's over several evenings. As part of the Lenten ritual, there was no electricity or candles. They would come online at Easter, and these rituals took place in the evening and ended as the darkness gathered in, hence the name.
There was a good deal of chanting and response in Latin by the assembled clerics who occupied about 20 pews brought into the sacristy for the occasion. As I remember it, there were about 40 or 50 priests, about half the diocese. The other half would be in the Cathedral in Loughrea doing Tenebrae there with the Bishop.
The sonorous back-and-forth of the chants were very soporific and as the light faded, the participants reached some end point and ceased suddenly. This was not clear to my young mind and I was scared out of my wits when at the abrupt end of the ceremony all the priests closed their Breviaries in unison. Those onion-skin paper books closed with a soft slap, which by itself nobody noticed, but in the cool darkness with the near somnolent congregation, 40 or 50 of them sounded like the flutter of leathery wings.
And who had leather wings?
Well, the boyo they had been praying against, I thought as shivers ran down my back and I stood a little closer to my father. He (you know who I mean) was obviously roosted high above in the rafters and only took off when the holiness of the ceremony got to him.
I wonder do kids now have such intense experiences?
I hope so.