Wednesday, 18 October 2017




It was 1978. Having grown up in Dublin I suddenly found myself in August of that year a curate in St Peter's Cathedral in Belfast - surrounded by the DIVIS FLATS (locally called the Devil's Flats).

I was living in the big old presbytery in the middle of all the mayhem in which life was more Downton Abbey than Divis Flats. Our clerical lives were, from the point of view of accommodation, food etc, at least upper middle class.

All around us, there was political mayhem, poverty, prescription drug abuse, marriage breakdown - not to mention the bombs and the bullets - the Brits and the Provos, the Stickies (official IRA), the INLA. 

Once I stepped out of the presbytery door I was immediately hit with the stench of all the uncollected refuse and the mind-blowing graffiti. When I went out at night the rats clung to the bottom of my trousers and had to be kicked off. Belfast City Hall told me that they could not kill all the rats - just keep them at an acceptable level!

For the first year, I said my Masses, heard my Confessions, communicated the sick, celebrated weddings and funerals and chaplained the schools. 

But, a voice inside my head kept saying: YOU ARE NOT DOING ENOUGH!

I had to do SOMETHING about the AIR OF HOPELESSNESS in which my people were drowning.

Then an inspiration....................................


I had already set up thge DIVIS RESIDENTS ASSOCIATION. I was the chairman as I could not be got at by the paramilitaries as ordinary folk could.

One Monday morning I donned a navy blue overalls and grabbed a yard brush and went out onto the street facing the presbytery and started brushing up the debris from the road.

An old lady ran down and remonstrated with me: "You cant do that Fa'r. Your hands are anointed".

By the end of the week, there were 500 people of all ages brushing the streets with me. The Housing Executive delivered hundreds of brushes and shovels to us free of charge. They also sent in hundreds of empty skips and removed them when we had them filled. Within a very short time, the place was as clean as the Malone Road :-)

Then we turned our eyes to the ugly graffiti - many of them political. Our mothers and grannies had a word with their "involved" husbands and sons and we painted over every bit of graffiti in the place. 

Each day I made a trip to the Housing Executive depot on the Protestant Shankill Road to collect all the paint, brushes and white spirit we needed. The men up there were very gracious to me. 

Not only was Divis Flats clean - the whole place now had a bright, fresh appearance of grey and magnolia.

And then I thought - "Now that the work is done - let us have a party" - and we had a week-long Divis Festival with volunteer bands coming with their own equipment. Others provided sandwiches and cake and tea and coffee.

I even arranged with the RUC Commander - Chief Superintendent Jimmy Crutchley - to keep the hated police and army out of the area for a week - on the guarantee that if anything happened I would alert them. Nothing did happen.

Of course, the eventual plan for Divis Flats had to be demolition and rehousing in decent homes. But in the meantime - and while we campaigned for that - we had to make the place half decent and livable in. 

The cleanup, painting, and festival dispelled the dark cloud of hopelessness that had been engulfing the whole parish.

One funny thing happened at the end of the cleanup. An engineer from Northern Ireland Electricity came into the Flats to fix a reported fault and not recognizing the place he left - thinking he was not in Divis :-)

A very good now deceased friend of mine, Father Michael Keane, used to always say: "When you go to a new parish observe things there for a while and find out what needs that place has. Then work with the people to address those needs".

Without realizing it that is what had happened to me in the Devil's Flats. 

Of course, a priest's role is primarily spiritual. 

But as been well said elsewhere you cannot talk to a hungry man about God. First of all, you feed him. Then you teach him how to fish. And then you can talk to him about God.

We even got awards for how Clean Divis was :-)


The other big social nightmare at the time was JOYRIDING - youngsters stealing cars and driving them around our parish at dangerous speeds and then burning out the cars.

This led to mayhem, sleeplessness, accidents, the area littered with burnst out cars and even death!

Again I gor the mothers and grannies to join me and we went out on the streets and "stole" the cars back off the joyriders.

I then drove the stolen cars back to the police station.

In the first year we saved 200 cars.

We also started up a late night youth club for the joyriders - 9 0m to 3 am - to keep them busy.

It worked.

That was the second big social issue in the parish under control.


Everybody applauded all our work - the newspapers, the police, youith groups etc etc.

But there was one group was not happy - me fellow clergy in the presbytery - especially the two most senior.

They resented our work for a number of reasons:

1. They thought (wrongly) that I was trying to show them up!

2. They resented all the publicity we were getting. None of the publicity had been sought. Good stories in The Troubles in Belfast of the early 80's were bound to get noticed.

3. They were being disturbed in the presbytery by people ringing the doorbell for me at all hours of the day and night.

I offered to put a lit up designated bell for myself on the door and the offer was refused.

I offered to do all the night duty 7 nights a week that was refused.

I offered the position of chairman of the resident's association to the PP. He replied: "I'm not going to be a f...... general in Buckley's f...... private army.


Cahal Daly became bishop of D&C in 1982.

I was reported to him for being disobedient, a troublemaker, a socialist etc.

He too did not like any publicity that did not involve him.

I would have been happy for him to be the chairman of his cathedral residents association - but - of course, I would not imagine CD out on the street with a brush and shovel.

So I was sent off to rural Kilkeel as a punishment.

And so began my troubles with CD which concluded with me being asked to leave the diocese in October 1985.

BY THE WAY: My salary during my time in Divis was my keep and £70 a month.

I was delighted to work a 16/18 day 7 days a week.

I took very few holidays during those years.

But I LOVED every minute of what I did.

We recently asked on the Blog what a priest should be like. 

I think that he should be a person who cares about and is involved with all the needs of his people - spiritual, social, physical etc.


  1. Pat, you did a lot of great work in Divis. Really great work. Let me ask you a question however: could you have achieved more if you had sold others on the value of your mission? Sometimes people who are convinced they are right are impatient with others who don't see the value. Instead of persuading them, they can project a self-righteousness which alienates. I wonder if you, Pat, did not attend sufficiently to selling your cause to the others, thus not achieving buy in. I wonder also if you were not prepared to compromise sufficiently to bring others on board (other clergy) and therefore found yourself alone. As ever in life, sometimes stepping back a little to welcome others can result in the achievement of more. Just a thought for discussion, and not to in any way underestimate what you did achieve.
    As an older and wiser man, how would you have done things differently?

    1. I did try and involve the PP even as the chair of it all. He refused.

      As I was writing the above yesterday there is one thing I could have tried that I didn't.

      I could have approached the VG Monsignor Patrick Mullaly who was well disposed to me and asked him to get Bishop Philbin's approval. Philbin was very keen for me to do ANYTHING that would have kept the youth "out of the grios of the IRA" as he had personally told me.

      I did not think of it at the time.

      The risks would have been:

      1. That they would have turned the idea down.

      2. That they would have told me to obey my PP.

      3. That my PP would think I had gone over his head and resented the idea anyway.

      And the whole thing just evolved. There was no master plan. Day led to day and action to action.

      And we were operating in the midst of The Troubles??..

    2. MourneManMichael18 October 2017 at 10:03

      Thank you Anon @ 00:56. I say thank you from reflection on my own early professional career, for I only much later developed the maturity to realise the limitations your questions pose in respect of my own impetuous "plowing of my own furrow"!
      I'm a wee bit wiser now, I think, ....hope?..... and try to 'step back' a little more with younger colleagues to encourage them on.

    3. We do what we can at the time,Pat.. and we all have things that we would now do slightly differently. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

    4. You make a good point MMM.

      It's all a question of balance I suppose.

      It's also about balancing caution, courage and initiative.

      It's like the battlefield. Some great victories are won through strategic planning and others through individual acts of heroic courage.

      The good general allows for both.

      The clever general is happy to bathe in the reflected light of the corporal's glory.

      Unfortunately in the Church, and many other establishments, the little man is expected to be a cog in the wheel and not dare, ever, to be a wheel.

      In the case of Divis no one was doing anything and no one was expected/allowed to do anything.

      This "wee private" was compelled, not by strategy, but by sheer frustration for his people, to ( unwisely ??? ) put his head above the parapet.

      A short time later General Daly demanded his head on a platter :-) :-(

    5. 10:59 Thank you.

      And in a time of crisis we act instinctively.

      One time in Divis some said to me:

      "Buckley, I admire you courage - and I look forward to the say you get the wisdom to go with it.

      And wisdom is vital.

      But it must be true wisdom - not cowardice or indifference wearing Wisdom's garments.

    6. Two well-expressed comments, Bishop P., at 11:13 and 11:19.

  2. It's an amazing story Pat. We are complicated people with strengths and weaknesses. Through it all the Grace of God can shine if we have a little faith and give it half a chance. 💒

  3. Sorry, Pat, but your big announcement of 10 days ago about a Maynooth scandal has, as predicted by me then, been shown to be empty and all hot air. Comment?

    1. That scandal is still brewing. It will blow.

    2. Will it warrant an entry in the Great Register of Strange Goings-On? I wonder.

    3. I thought strict new anti-poovery rules had been introduced at the college, including supervised evening meals and mandatory evening rosary at 9 pm as part of a suite of measures to thwart the danger of concupiscence amongst trainees and staff members

    4. No force exists can stop two people being together if that's what they want to be... even if they're trainee pulpit poofterboys.

    5. Pat, allowing insulting words like "poovery" and similar derogatory terms on this blog feeds into homophobia which I find morally reprehensible. Surely out of personal experience, you should not print any comment that includes homophobic connotations, irrespective of what way of life chosen by individuals.

    6. At 16:29
      Poor command of vocabulary and even poorer of style.

    7. @21:50

      ... especially if they're trainee pulpit poofterboys.

    8. @22:46 It would be very difficult indeed to insult one of the most homophobic institution in the world. LOL.

  4. I don’t live in Ireland but I imagine life has greatly improved in the north since 1978. I note Divis, like many other sixties housing complexes that blighted peoples' lives, has also been demolished since then.

    You were fortunate to branch out on your own when you did as it sounds like many self-aggrandising pulpit pooftahs are still living without boundaries or limits at the expense of others.

    1. Thank you.

      I think I was made to walk the plank rather than branch out :-)

      But many blessings have come from independence.

      The biggest blessing is to be able to respond to need without having to refer to upstairs, canon law or the clerical club.

      The motto can then be: "Do what Jesus would do"

    2. 8.46. Your comment is incomplete - a little unfair and rather belittling and offensive. You may be a self aggrandizing pulpit pooftah - but I assure you many of the clerics I encounter are down to earth, good human beings, men, who despite the challenges of ministry and their disillusionment with the institution, find their fulfilment in their human daily engagement with their parishioners. There's been enough insulting, derogatory language used here recently that's both dehumanising and reprehensible. You may be a poiftah in your respective way if life but be more careful in your moral judgments. Thank God for our prirsts, though human and imperfect , the majirity are decent, kind and hard working, now thay they are pretty much in their own. There are many priests and religious who have made enirmoys contribution to the whole area of justice for homeless people, drug addicts, alcoholics, socially deprived communities etc...all done without fanfare and from within the "system". So, good things are possible to achieve by remaining faithful to the charism of religious life and priesthood. That's been my personal experience.

    3. You are right. Much great work has been done, and is being done, by priests and religious within the system.

      I think of the late Father McDyer of Glencolmcille, of Father Peter McVerry of Dublin, of Father Shay Cullen in the Philippines.

      And in all people who do good there is something of the ego.

      In fact I believe the Holy Spirit can use the ego to the good.

      What is wrong with enjoying doing good?

    4. 08:46
      Vulgarity of expression doesn’t persuade or advance your point of view.

  5. I suppose we all including myself might have done things differently if we knew then what we know now. I presume like me Pat you had personal challenges to navigate in the midst of public ministry and commitment-Thats life! Perhaps now all we can hope for is that our experience of the past will influence the present in a positive way with Gods Blessing. This year i am revisiting theological study with a group preparing for ordained and non ordained ministry. We are doing this on a part time basis while holding onto the day job. It is informative interesting and humbling. I do not see myself above or below anyone else because I am ordained already. We are a believing community of faith from many walks of life.

  6. A public lecture will be delivered by Dr Jan Freytag on the life and ministry of the former Bishop of Down and Connor, Dr William Philbin. Dr Jan Freytag (Ruhr-University-Bochum, Germany) has recently completed doctoral research into the ‘Prison Protests 1976-1981’ in Northern Ireland and has also carried out extensive research into the life and ministry of Bishop Philbin. The lecture is entitled: “From Council to Conflict: The life and ministry of Bishop William Philbin from the Second Vatican Council to the Northern Ireland Assembly”. The lecture will be held in QUB Catholic Chaplaincy, 28 Elmwood Avenue on Wed 18 Oct at 7.00pm. All are welcome and light refreshments will be provided.

    1. Thank you.

      I should very much like to attend.

  7. I shall also attend. Sounds interesting. But it may also reveal the mystery man Magna in the form of "learned erudite @ researched" questions or comments. Interesting opportunity.

  8. Wish you would shut up 13.00
    Did you need to publish this personal remark , Pat?
    Are you loosing the plot?

    1. We'd all like to know MC - Wouldn't you? If MC can make snide, personal put downs, why not anyone else? Was meant as "humour", Magna style. Obviously it's lost on you!!

  9. Fr. Neal Carlin in the Derry Diocese was put out in the cold for over a decade, I believe, when Bishop Edward Daly took a dislike to his work. Fr. Carlin then went on to found the Columba House Peace Community. After Bishop Daly´s stroke and retirement, he was brought back into the diocese and he has regained favour. Did you ever meet him?

    1. Once. And I am an admirer of him and his work.

      It was sad that Eddie Daly gave him a red card.

      Priests can suffer if a bishop takes a personal dislike to the. :-)

    2. Once. And I am an admirer of him and his work.

      It was sad that Eddie Daly gave him a red card.

      Priests can suffer if a bishop takes a personal dislike to the. :-)

  10. Pat. Are we all supposed to admire you from this post?

    1. No, you are not.

      You can love me or hate me or feel anywhere in between those emotions.

      I am simply stating what happened and what I was involved in that led to my deteriorating relationship with the diocese and my eventual removal.

  11. A very inspirational post, Pat. It wasn't so much that the authorities didn't care, though doubtless some of their staff did, but it was simply too dangerous for public bodies to operate in dangerous parts of Belfast. It's encouraging to hear that the Housing Executive and their staff, including on the Shankill, were so helpful.

    Also, people don't want to live in horrible neighbourhoods and you galvanised latent effort.

    As a priest in 1980s west Belfast you were safe to do what you did as you were trusted. The joyriders were a total menace to themselves and everyone else.

    You also showed wisdom in using the grannies to negotiate with their involved relatives.

    Under Pope Francis you'd be celebrated for smelling the sheep. Well done.

    1. Thank you. I do not feel that I did too much.

      That kind of involvement should be typical of a priest in a deprived situation

      My great ally in the work I did was the much hated Housing Exec Mrs Rosie Kennedy. We clicked and she would have done (nearly) anything for me :-)

    2. Yes, 19:35, you've expressed the truth in a nutshell: he smelt of the sheep.

  12. Bishop Pat, am I alone in smelling the reek of absolute moral hypocrisy coming from Noel Treanor? He visits the poor of Zimbabwe, after having spent up to four million quid (possibly more) renovating and refurbishing his mini-mansion? I mean (Duh!😨): can the good Bishop of Down and Under not smell his own stench?

    Not one of the those who leapt to his defence yesterday,following my (er) biting satire of the man😆, seemed to notice his moral stink. Not even MMMM, who has, recently, lectured me interminably😩 on moral probity.

    Are the Irish morally 'noseblind' on top of everything else?😭

    The contrast between your selfless efforts in Divis all those years ago and Noel Treanor's massive self-indulgence more recently couldn't be sharper.

    Given the lack of protest against morally flatulent men like Treanor (especially by priests), I suppose the diocese of Down and Under gets the kind of bishop it deserves.😆

    1. MC, I appreciate your affirmation.

      You are right about hypocrisy.

      My involvement was facilitated by being the oldest of 17 children growing up - not in poverty, but near the economic edge. That made it easy to identify with my Divis brothers and sisters.

      Don't be too hard on MMM. He has often criticised me but I believe his criticisms are generally thoughtful ( but not infalliable) and conveyed with dignity.

      Yes, many Irish Catholics are blind. It the Roman disease!

      Thank you for your more temperate vocab :-)

    2. Magna, you deserve the interminable moral lecturing from all quarters. Sometimes in our smugness of possessing much knowledge we can be very blind to our own carelessness and propensity to insult and abuse others. Of course we try to accept you as "you are" but, my God, we require the patience of Job! Pat deserves a Bene Merenti for his tolerance as you've turned so many away! Our inner self awareness is often so incomplete that we adopt an inferior attitude towards others. MMM has intellectually challenged you, as have others, and instead of reasoned debate, you resort to personalised, derogatory and abusive behaviour. RATIONAL is not a word that exists in your lexicon, sadly. Your opinion now on anything is absolutely irrelevant. While Pat is to be admired for being radical, along with many others in similar situations then, let us not forget that many priests and religious today are equally as radical, brave and courageous in their stand against injustice, social exclusion and poverty. They do their work steadfastly without fanfare. Magna, somehow, being the "self-obsessed" man you are, I doubt if you are making any meaningful difference to people!!!

    3. Pat, it's nauseating to read the exchanges between you and MC. He does not deserve the space or embracing you give him. He has zero respect for everyone. His treatment of many on this blog is morally and ethically wrong, his continued sneering presence insidious.

    4. Poor old Magna, no friends tonight! How lonely and unbearable life must be that his only outlet is this forum - but how odious his comments. I thank God for good priests in our communities - men, who like Pat, at least try to make worthwhile, enriching contributions to people's lives.

    5. Yes, indeed - MMM is not “infallible” - only Pat Buckley and Magna Carta are “infallible” on this blog.

    6. 22:14, where were all those 'radical priests' you so liberally praise when the morally flatulent Noel Treanor, Lord Bishop of Down and Under, was spending millions renovating and refurbishing his mini-mansion? Where was their moral outrage? I didn't hear it.

      And where was Trocaire's moral protest? After all, the good Bishop of Down and Under was going out to Zimbabwe in its name, on an all-expenses-paid, fact-finding junket? Are you people for real? A colossal spendthrift is permitted to represent an organisation that claims to tackle poverty in developing countries? Jeez! What is wrong with you clowns? Oh! I've just answered my own question: you're 'clowns'.

      As for MMM's 'intellectual' challenge, I'm sorry, but the man's a bombastic windbag, with a writing style so pretentious and convoluted, it would make dear old Oscar wince. There was no intellectual challenge from MMM, but a lot of quasi-cerebral postusturing. You wouldn't know the difference, though, would you?

    7. Does anybody (except Magna) know what postusturing is?
      Wiki doesn't.
      Google's beat.
      Aw well, we can always rely on Magna's infinite wisdom.

  13. Maybe if the “moral stench” from Carta wasn’t so overwhelming on this blog, the Eau de Noelle would be more detectable.

    In any case, Carta, the whole “Chateau Noel” thing has been done to death on this blog several times over - along with Buckley’s alleged martyrdom in St Peter’s.

  14. Bishop Pat, the Pharisees are still with us, and still under God's judgement.

    Pray for them, please.

    1. What a tit.

    2. Vox Magnae Cartae vox Dei.

    3. 23:50
      Sir, madam,
      You would need to update your grasp of Pharisees and Pharisaism. It was an influential reform movement within Judaism. You are reproducing a jaded caricature.

    4. And you, sir, need to prick yourself with a pin to release a lot of that bombast.

    5. @00:01 Well done - you've hit a nerve there. Magna Carta can't bear to be told he isn't always right.

  15. I knew all this from earlier posts. So all priests should be just like me. Yeah, message received and perhaps you have received your reward in the praise of men. You did a great job for a time but, like the saints, perhaps you should allow others to say it.

  16. Magna Carta I enjoy and look forward to your contributions ,the craic is mighty.
    May the force be with you .

  17. It's an amazing story Pat. We are complicated people with strengths and weaknesses. Through it all the Grace of God can shine if we have a little faith and give it half a chance.Thanks for sharing.

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