The remarkable story of a local priest, the First World War and the chalice he used while ministering to soldiers in the horror of the trenches has come full circle after almost 100 years.
This amazing tale centres on Father James McRory, from Dunree in Inishowen, who, on the outbreak of World War One, enlisted as a chaplain with the Connaught Rangers.
Father James was wounded on October 21, 1917, at the battle of Passchendaele on the Western Front. He was sent home to convalesce but returned to serve in Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq).
When the war was finally over, he returned to minister in Scotland where he’d been based before the war. He then ministered in various parishes across Northern Ireland until his death, aged 71, in 1952, at a Warrenpoint Nursing Home.
However, the year before he died, Fr. James gifted a chalice that had served him throughout the years of his wartime chaplaincy to his nephew, a young recently ordained priest called Father Camillus McRory.
Father Camillus spent his life ministering in the United States and one of his final requests before his death in 2011 was that the chalice be returned into the safe keeping of the McRory family in Dunree.
And it’s at this point that Fr. James’ grand-niece Tracey McRory enters the story.
It was in February of this year that the chalice was finally returned to Tracey with words both inspiring and challenging: “It’s your responsibility now…”
Tracey - a talented musician who has actually performed on the very same battlefield where her grand uncle was wounded in 1917 - takes up the story: “Relatives of Fr. Camillus living in Belfast - who we didn’t know of - contacted us after he died on Christmas Day last year to let us know that the chalice was being brought back from the United States.
“I told them I’d love to see it and arranged to travel to Belfast a short time later. Imagine my surprise when one of Fr. Camillus’ relatives said to me: ‘This belongs to your family and it’s your responsibility now’.”
Tracey says it’s amazing when one thinks of the history associated with the chalice.
“When I first held it, I have to admit that a shudder ran through me. To think that this very same chalice had been held by my grand uncle while he ministered to soldiers in the horror of the trenches - it really is an unbeliveable story.
“In a sense it has now come full circle after almost 100 years. The chalice probably left here with Fr. James when he departed Ireland and it’s now home again. It’s as if it was meant to be.”
Tomorrow evening at The Playhouse in Derry (8 p.m.), the story of Fr James will be dramatised at a cultural evening of music, song and drama.
The event will include songs and stories which tell of local people tragically lost in World War One and of survivors, too.
Staff and pupils from St Columb’s College, where Father James studied as a boy, will take part in the dramatisation of his story.
Also performing at the event are Tracey McRory, Richard Laird, Darren Milligan and Roy Arbuckle.
Tickets for “Voices of the Past-Sharing our Future” are priced £8/£6 and can be booked by calling The Playhouse on Tel: 028 71268027.