First Holy Communion

Extract from Chapter 1 'Westport The Tear and The Smile' by Joe McNally

Our greatest 'first' event was that of our First Holy Communion. Napoleon Bonaparte was once asked what his greatest childhood memory was, and he replied, 'The day I received my First Holy Communion'. It is most special because we are conscious of being really fussed over by our parents and our teachers. Again it is our first realisation that we are 'somebody' - we are somehow important in this life - being centre stage - and being Irish, and especially being coveys, we play it to the hilt! The preparations by the nuns - the mock confessions and communions - the standard sins (which indeed didn't vary very much through life!) - the marching up and down from Convent to Church - Sr Dominic and Sr Mary Mercy instilling the fear of God in us and we thought only of the big day and 'the feast' in the Convent afterwards.

At that time we 'received' collectively - the girls occupying the front seats on the left-hand side and the boys occupying the front seats on the right-hand side of the nave of the church. The girl's side was a mass of white - white dresses, white veils, white shoes, white socks, white Rosary beads, white prayer books - and snow white souls to match!

The late Breege Heaney, a teacher from Achill Sound, once said to me when we were discussing the young pupils she was teaching - 'What are they but precious flowers from God's Garden'. I never forgot that lovely comparison.

Then you had the boys - some in long pants for the first time - sailor suits, plain navy suits, white jumpers - and all displaying the white Communion badges. As each girl was escorted by her mother to the appointed pew they were reverently met by Sr. Columba and Sr. Claire who gently guided the 'precious flower' to her seat. Likewise with the boys - the fathers generally escorted the boys to the pews on the right-hand side where they were met by Bro. Healion, one of the finest teachers ever to grace our C B school.

Such reverence - such detailed precision - a touch of a guiding hand - a nod - a reassuring smile from Sister or Brother as each received the Eucharist for the first time. The solemnity of that beautiful 'first' meeting with Christ leaves an indelible mark on our lives. On going back now, do we not feel a sadness in the heart? - do we not go misty-eyed into a past that held an innocence and a nearness to God that is so hard to find today? We remember a lost innocence when we were 'precious flowers in God's Garden.'