News came from Ireland of the death of Fr John Lalor, parish priest of Camross in Co Laois – a beautiful parish and a warm and generous community tucked beneath the Slieve Bloom Mountains.
I first met Fr John when I became Church of Ireland rector of Mountrath in 2010. John seemed a man who could be austere and traditional and conservative, but I was to learn that the real John Lalor was a man with a warm heart, engaging smile and a quick wit.
At a time when parish priests were becoming more and more scarce, Camross was blessed in having Fr Lalor for three decades. He was a tremendous community leader who had the courage to have great vision for the parish and to work to fulfil that vision. Perhaps it was only during his times of illness that it was fully realised how important he was to the life and progress of the community.
John’s parish included two of the six churches that were under my care. The Church of Ireland community in the parish of Offerlane, with its churches at Annatrim and Lacca, numbers only a hundred and sixty people, but we always received great support and encouragement from the Catholic community around us, with John Lalor at the forefront of that support. Fr Lalor was with us in sad times as well as happy ones and in him we were blessed with a kind and genuine leader of kind and genuine friends. Writing a piece for a history of the parish five years ago, I wrote that “actions always speak far louder than words and the generosity of the community has been a great testimony to the warmth of its spirit.” John Lalor always set the tone for that generosity and warmth.
The abiding memories of him will be the laughter we enjoyed. He was gifted with a very dry wit, which could sometimes be acerbic. Never a man for long speeches, he dreaded those who would speak at length and there would be gatherings where he would whisper asides that made me smile. On one occasion, a speaker addressed a gathering in Irish. John leant over and said, “I’m half-English, you’re wholly English, a lot of good this is.”
John never attempted to conceal his political loyalties. We were at a gathering in Coolrain where a number of the local councillors were present, in his prayers John asked for a blessing on all the public representatives, “especially those from Fine Gael,” he said, with a big smile.
John took delight in simple things, in buying the Sunday newspaper and retreating behind the front door of his house in Durrow; in the painting of water colours which he so much enjoyed; in visiting the homes of the people whom he loved and drinking tea at the fireside.
Fr Lalor was among the last of the old fashioned parish priests. He was a man who spent decades caring for his community, a community which in turn cared for him. The words “we’ll not see his like again” can be sometimes used too lightly, in the case of Fr John Lalor, they are fully justified.
It would seem appropriate to conclude with a few words of Irish we would both have understood.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.