Time for a helping hand

“HAND” said the booming voice of the middle-aged cleric who lay on my bed in Rhetoric House, Maynooth Seminary back in 1974. “Hand, McLáimh, I’m afraid that name does not have a good reputation in clerical circles. Your pedigree is not very good I’m sorry to say.”

The man who uttered these words was the late Cardinal Thomás O’Fiach, former Archbishop of Armagh and professor of history at Maynooth College.

He had recently been appointed President of the Catholic Seminary and had taken it upon himself to visit each of the first-year clerical students to introduce himself and get to know them.


I was one of those clerical students having entered the Seminary on the 3rd of September 1974, the day of my 17th birthday, with visions of becoming a priest for the diocese of Clogher.

My student room was sparsely furnished, it contained a bed, a table and one chair, and so he made himself at home by jumping up on the bed and proceeded to inform me of my clerical pedigree. He told me that the last man to be ordained a priest with my surname was called ‘McLáimh’.

This man he informed me was an alcoholic. In order to get money to feed his drinking habit, McLáimh became a key witness in the trial of the martyr and recently canonised Saint, Oliver Plunket. McLáimh gave crucial evidence that led to Oliver Plunkett’s execution. As a result of that, the McLáimh clan ashamed of what this alcoholic priest did, changed their name to the English version of Hand.

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