Tom Fee was born in 1923. His parents were both schoolteachers in the local school near Cullyhanna.
He was only nine years old when his mother died of cancer. The young Tom had mastered the Irish language by the early age of ten. As an adult he became a polyglot – specialising in numerous European languages. He became an author and an accomplished local historian in his own right.
Even as he rose through the ranks of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, one-time President of Maynooth, he retained the fond title among his own of Father Tom. He was passionate about football, and closely followed the fortunes of his beloved Armagh senior Gaelic team. Even as Archbishop of Armagh he is said to have pencilled in to his diary every match that Armagh played, and tried hard to attend. He unfortunately did not live to see their finest hour.
Cardinal O’Fiaich made no secret of his nationalist and republican views. This didn’t often suit the authorities. In the dark days of the blanket protests and hunger strikes, he remained firm in his stand for the rights of prisoners. He was vilified in the British press for this, wrongly accused of condoning murder and suicide. He was even dubbed the ‘chaplain-in-chief to the IRA’.
Cardinal O’Fiaich befriended people of all religions everywhere but no more so than at home in Creggan. He spent many evenings in the company of the Rev Noel and his wife, poring over old manuscripts and record books that were kept there. He was the autrhor of several historical books and a founder member of Seanchas Ard Macha, the Armagh diocese historical journal in 1953.
Cardinal O’Fiaich died while on a visit to Lourdes on 8th May 1990. A man who never forgot his roots, Father Tom will long be remembered among his own people.
In the land of saints and scholars Creggan has become caretaker of the remains of many of Ireland‘s most illustrious sons – and a few other besides!!
It may be a cause of some puzzlement to outsiders that this Protestant Church and Graveyard is held in such esteem and sanctity in the Republican South Armagh heartland. Not to those who live there.
We all owe our thanks to the Father Toms and the Jem Murphys of this land. They have preserved our soul by preserving our heritage.
It is now up to the rest of us to take up the challenge. We must ensure that our children and grandchildren learn the stories, the songs, the language, the culture and the history of our forefathers.
…. end ……….