COLUMN: An accidental meeting

I WAS responsible for him losing his eyelash and gaining a wife yet I only met the man once and I don’t even know his name.

It all came about because my first car as a newly ordained priest was a clapped out ten-year-old Austin Allegro that was held together by rust. The reason I came to be the owner of such a sad machine, in an age when priests tended to drive the latest models off the factory floor was not based on idealistic Christian principles, it was primarily guilt. Two years previous I had written off my sister’s car in Australia and as a peace offering I bought this car from my sister’s friend, as she had been unable to sell it following a visit to Ireland. The car had sat outside, unused through two winters, yet despite my doubts about its roadworthiness, a well-meaning mechanic assured me that it had a good engine, so I took a chance.

One by one the parts of the car broke and were dutifully replaced, the gearbox, the alternator, the indicator switch, and the clutch, until the sum of the parts was worth ten times more than the car itself. Then the ‘good engine’ caved in.

It was on the night of the demise of the engine that the Parish Priest phoned and asked me if could I say Mass in Belleek the next morning, as the local priest was unavailable. I told him my car was incapacitated awaiting a new engine and as Belleek was 20 miles away, I had no means of getting there. Unaware of my previous history with my sister’s car in Australia, he offered me the use of his brand new Renault 18 that he had bought the previous week. He told me it had all the latest 1983 technology, including power steering. I accepted his offer graciously and assured him that I would drive with care. He told me to be in no hurry back so long as it was returned by mid-afternoon as he had arranged to take his parents out for a drive in his new car.

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