Northern Ireland

Fr Aidan Troy returning ‘home’ to north Belfast for Christmas as he celebrates 53 years in the priesthood

Fr Troy is helping out at Holy Cross in Ardoyne as his fellow Passionist and friend Fr Gary Donegan recovers from eye surgery

Fr Aidan Troy
Fr Aidan Troy

On this day more than five decades ago Fr Aidan Troy was ordained, a milestone to be marked in part by a sort of homecoming to Holy Cross.

Fr Troy is coming north to celebrate Mass on Christmas Eve in the Ardoyne parish where he served for seven years until 2008.

He was ordained in Dublin 53 years ago, in 1970, but he is adamant it is not his achievement but all the people along the way giving him brilliant moments and carrying him through “awful events”.

“What a joy this year to be back in Belfast for Christmas Mass in Holy Cross, so full of memories!” Fr Troy wrote on social media.

He will be back in the parish where he was propelled into the international spotlight during the loyalist blockade of Holy Cross Girls’ Primary School, which began shortly after arriving in the parish in 2001.

Fr Aidan Troy comforts a school girl and her mother during the Holy Cross disputes 20 years ago
Fr Aidan Troy comforts a school girl and her mother during the Holy Cross disputes 20 years ago

The Dubliner, who returned to Ireland last year after 14 years in France, is helping out Fr Frank and Fr Anthony as Fr Gary Donegan recovers from eye surgery.

“I worked very closely with Fr Gary and really am concerned talking to him most days on the phone,” Fr Troy told The Irish News.

“To be going through something like lost sight so I told him ‘while you are getting better is there anything I can do to help’.”

Fr Troy expects to make the journey from his now Dublin base most weekends, including to celebrate the 9pm Vigil Mass in the Crumlin Road church.

“I could not be happier to be back in Holy Cross.”

Holy Cross Church, Ardoyne
Holy Cross Church, Ardoyne

On previous visits, Fr Troy said he could not but realised as he has grown older it is happening to others too.

“A young woman came up to me and said, ‘do you know me, when I was four years of age, you held my hand as we walked up the road’.

“Then she showed me her screen saver and said, ‘that’s my wee boy’.”

Fr Troy added: “It makes me so glad to be part of something and came through without bitterness and we are getting on with our lives.”

The Passionist unprompted also expressed his deep sadness over the recent death of The Irish News photographer Hugh Russell, who, he said, seemed to just turn up at the most amazing times, often smiling.

Irish News photographer and champion boxer Hugh Russell, whose funeral was held last week
Irish News photographer and champion boxer Hugh Russell, who died in October following an illness

Fr Troy is currently writing a book, which will include memories of his experiences in Belfast.

Those experiences include walking every school day with the 225 children and their parents to Holy Cross. For three months, loyalists attempted to block the children from making their way to school.

Police and Army had to be deployed also during the daily protests, which began with sectarian abuse but escalated to violence, with bricks, blast bombs and fireworks fired over the security force lines.

Every day, Fr Troy was at the head of the procession, his tall frame in full Passionist robes, the order’s emblem of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, with a cross close to the chest.

A young girl on the way to Holy Cross Primary School in Ardoyne during a loyalist protest. Picture by Hugh Russell
A young girl on the way to Holy Cross Primary School in Ardoyne during a loyalist protest. Picture by Hugh Russell

The protests only ended deep into the school year, with the help of individuals like former UUP leader David Trimble and Norman Hamilton, the former moderator of the Presbyterian Church.

Fr Troy’s first experience of the north was when he entered the novitiate in Enniskillen just in time for the start of the conflict in the late 1960s. After his ordination, he took up his first post in 1971 in the Crossgar, Co Down, Passionist community.

Part of his work included visiting Long Kesh prisoners and supporting their families. He was learning fast about the north only a few years after stepping over the border for the first time.

After some time in Rome in the 1990s, including studying at the Angleicum University for a year, he was again on the move, this time to north Belfast, taking up the position five weeks before the first protests started.

Fr Troy, who was not keen to be moved from Ardoyne to Paris in 2008, took up a position in the parish of St Joseph’s, including as chaplain to the pupils in the prestigious fee-paying St Joseph’s School, a long way from Ardoyne.

He is glad to be back in Ireland. While looking forward to more visits to Belfast, and celebrating Mass, Fr Troy’s main work after serving in parishes for 21 years will be his writing.

He said he is “fairly far forward” writing a book revisiting his experiences in Belfast, though the Dubliner said he did not want to reveal too many details at this point.

It will, he said, be driven in part by a want to highlight the collaboration across society in the 25 years since the Good Friday Agreement, despite the north’s ongoing problems.