Father John Joe Duffy a native of Burtonport and the eldest of a family of eight children has been a stalwart supporter of local issues not only at a local level but on a national and European level where he has fought and continues to fight the cause for many people. He has deservedly been nominated for the Finn Valley Centre Community Hero and indeed we are delighted that he has agreed to take part considering that he is now in his final week here in the Stranorlar parish and is busy making arrangements for his move to Creeslough.
As a youngster growing up in Burtonport his hobbies were walking, fishing, basketball, reading, hillwalking and tug of war. His primary school years were spent in Keadue and Acres National Schools and secondary education was at the Rosses Community School in Dungloe. After secondary school he took a year out and then entered Maynooth in 1995 as a seminarian and was ordained in 2002. In the year prior to ordination he spent a year in Stranorlar as a Deacon in 2001 and at the time he stayed with Fr. Rory Brady who was C.C. in the parish. He spent time as catholic curate in St. Crone’s Church Arranmore Island before taking up his position as C.C. in Stranorlar in Sept 2012. His first appointment was in Glencolmcille as CC from 2002 to 2006.
As a child Fr John Joe had a strong connection with his community in Burtonport and throughout his primary and secondary school years he was involved in fundraising for the RNLI, the Burtonport Festival, Burtonport Community Centre and Keadue Rovers Football Club. He also served on the committee of the Burtonport Festival as a teenager.
The Path to Priesthood
John Joe went straight into the seminary at the age of twenty after doing six years in secondary school having repeated second year. A lifechanging decision but one which was brought about after much struggling and praying with the idea. In his primary school years he was inspired by seeing Msgr. Dan McDyer and from the age of six or seven he felt he wanted to do the same job as Fr. Dan. Throughout his early years he found many people who inspired him and who in many ways brought him to his decision, such as people in his own community and priests who were talked about in the home and at school as well as seeing other priests in own community. He continued to struggle with the idea of priesthood and considered other careers such as the Gardaí, law, finance and journalism. He also considered becoming a missionary on hearing about the work of Fr PJ McGlinchey in South Korea. His school chaplain Fr Pat McHugh was also a great influence on him. Eventually he was advised by a Fr. Boyle from the USA to pray three Hail Marys to Our Lady each day asking her to guide him to what vocation in life Jesus was calling him too. He took that advice and
discovered that his desire was to follow Jesus and to be a person who could help people in their lives and give hope and so he eventually came to the decision to become a priest. Indeed growing up in Burtonport and having a dad who was a fisherman coupled with the experience he had of the fishing industry was an important factor. In a town so closely connected to the industry he knew of many families who had suffered great loss through fishing tragedies. The person he is today is a product of all those he encountered around him and one person in particular was a shining example of triumph over adversity in his own community. The late Manus McCole R.I.P. the
legendary manager of Keadue Rovers who greatly inspired the young John Joe, he was an example of a man who overcame his own disability and who fought for things many would take for granted, and, who in turn gave so much of himself back to the community. It is also through the inspiration of Msgr. James Horan the late PP of Knock that he is highly motivated to fight the cause of rural and local communities. He says Msgr. Horan was his greatest inspiration to stand up for the retention of services in the communities he has been blessed to serve and live in.
It’s no surprise that Fr. John Joe has a strong interest in the world of sport as his family have been very involved in the sporting world with his sister Annie Marie Boland holding several All Ireland Curragh Rowing Championships. His brother Oscar also holds All Ireland Curragh and Skift medals. Curragh and Skift rowing are very much a part of the family tradition. He is also a first cousin of Joseph Duffy of Mixed Martial Arts fame who was one of the few people who can say that they beat Conor McGregor.
Involvement in Community Groups
Throughout his time as C.C. in Stranorlar, Fr. John Joe has continued to show support to the many groups in the area. He feels it is important to highlight on a private and public level those people who volunteer in this community from sporting, football, drama, youth etc. and makes it his mission to promote these volunteers who give of their time in so many ways. He was delighted to see the many groups who came together through the celebrating community evening held during the Parish Mission and he feels that there is a strong community in the area, and groups such as the Finn Valley, GAA, Soccer and other clubs play a pivotal role. He also likes to encourage people on a private level and has been involved in different ministry groups with a view to building a community.
The Save Our St. Joseph’s Hospital Action group has highlighted the upcoming loss of long stay hospital beds in St. Joseph’s and Fr. John Joe has played a pivotal role in this committee. He was inspired to act by Eileen Gallagher and the people and volunteers who give such great care to their loved ones. His wish is only to speak for people who are very vulnerable and for those people in the community who don’t get to have their voice heard. The importance of community and of keeping services such as St. Joseph’s open can only be achieved by the empowerment of people within that community who can voice their needs thus ensuring that vulnerable people are cared for in their own communities by their own people. Although he is now in the process of moving he still plans to be involved with the St. Joseph’s Action group and he has been personally asked by the new Bishop Alan McGuckian and Fr Kieran McAteer to stay on the committee. Both Fr. Kieran and Bishop McGuickian feel strongly that it is important that he continues in this role to support the people, and ensure that services remain. Click the following link to view a short clip of the demonstration march held inthe Twin Towns to highlight the loss of long term beds at St Joseph’s, Ramelton and Lifford hospitals.
Fr. John Joe was also part of a deputation to the Minister of Education Richard Bruton who advocated along with others to help bring about support for a much needed new school for St. Mary’s Stranorlar. He is quick to say that he does nothing himself, but does so along with others and feels that his ministry is to pray, to serve, to give comfort and support, and to challenge for better services, in particular for mental health services and a new way of looking and working toward suicide prevention. His opinion is that the voluntary sector in this community has responded to the challenge and have worked hard, batting way above their level through the various clubs and groups which have driven the promotion of mental health issues. This coupled with the wonderful work done in both primary and secondary schools and their staff as well as the great work being done throughout all denominations.
Support for other Denominations
The recent news that St. Joseph’s was to lose the Church of Ireland location and the downsizing of the Catholic Church has been highlighted by Fr. John Joe. He feels that it is disturbing and insulting to the Protestant denominations that the HSE consulted with roman catholic clergy about downsizing of their church in St Joseph’s and issued plans showing the removal of the Church of Ireland location without any consultation with the Church of Ireland and other churches. It displays a total lack of respect towards the Protestant communities and towards a consecrated space that this could be done with a stroke of a pen. He was saddened and angered greatly that an agent of the state, who is supposed to serve, would act in such a discriminatory manner and unfortunately it is systematic of the manner in which the HSE has acted towards a local community, without consideration of the impact that their actions will have on the lives of long stay patients and their families.
Retention of Small Schools throughout Ireland
The Small schools campaign arose out of the 2012 budget when a decision was made to increase the pupil teacher ratio which meant that schools with less than 100 pupils saw huge increases in class sizes and the loss of many teachers. This issue particularly affected the protestant schools throughout the country and in Donegal where there is a high number of smaller schools. As a member of the Catholic Primary Schools Managers Association Fr. John Joe served on this national committee alongside Rev. John Dean to raise the issue to the minister Jan O’Sullivan who eventually made concessions in order to keep schools of a particular denomination opened where there were schools of a similar denomination a distance away. As a thank you for advocating on their behalf he was invited along with Rev John Deane to the Church of Ireland School in Ardara to raise their green flag which he was immensely happy to do. Together they also highlighted the disastrous funding cuts to all primary schools and the negative impact it would have, which is now evident across the board for schools who are struggling to meet the day to day running costs. Capitation grants have been cut year on year and the cutting of minor works grants is now having a huge impact on schools at the moment and is a continuing issue.
Retention of the Malin Head Coast Guard Centre and advocacy for small scale fisheries
Fr. John Joe’s advocacy work has taken him to the European Parliament on a number of occasions where he successfully campaigned for small scale and inshore fishermen. The campaign for retention of the Malin Head Coast Guard Rescue Co-Ordination Centre in Malin Head for the retention of the centre on Valentia Island Co. Kerry saw him make several journeys to Dail Eireann where he had the great pleasure of meeting his fellow campaigner the great Mick O Connell of Kerry football. He also addressed a subcommittee of the European Parliament and an Oireachtas committee on the need to open up fishing grounds for small scale and inshore fishermen which has successfully happened.
A Fond Farwell to a Dedicated Member of the Community
He pays tribute to the people of the Parish of Stranorlar who have made him a better and more rounded person and the people of this parish will always remain within his heart. “I have been truly inspired to see what can be achieved for a community by hard working people and people working together as our community, sporting and cultural facilities and groups bear witness too”.
The Parish of Stranorlar has been truly blessed to have Fr. John Joe over the past five years and it is with great sadness that we must say goodbye to him. Thankfully, as he stated himself, he is not going away from the Save Our St. Joseph’s Hospital Action Group committee and we are delighted that he has the support of the Rev. Alan McGuckian and Fr. Kieran McAteer in this decision. That said, Stranorlar’s loss is definitely Creeslough’s gain and we wish him well in his new post in the sure and certain knowledge that he will continue to fight on for all those who need his help at both local and national level. All that remains is to thank Fr. John Joe for his contribution to this community and to ensure him that there will always be a welcome for him here.