When Pope Pius XII declared the year 1950 to be a Holy Year, people from all over Ireland marked the occasion in suitable fashion. Some took part in Holy Year pilgrimages to Rome, while at home in Ireland, the Holy Year and Definition of the Dogma of the Assumption was marked by ceremonies of varying kinds in different parts of the country.
At home in Leitrim, to be more specific, in Leitrim town, plans were being implemented to mark the occasion of the Holy Year in a very special and practical way. A gentleman called Joseph Mary Mooney is credited with first suggesting the idea. At a representative meeting held in Leitrim Village in the autumn of 1950, it was unanimously agreed that a cross, commemorating the Holy Year and the Definition of the Dogma of the Assumption be erected on the Hill of Sheemore. As the proposed memorial was to be a permanent and illuminated one, funds were required to defray the cost of the same. Collections were taken up all over the Parish and appeals were made to all Leitrim-born people throughout Ireland, England and the United States. The names of subscribers were published in the local press, as well as being recorded in collection books, like the proposed monument, to be a lasting record to the faith of the people of the area, at home and abroad.
Plans for the proposed memorial were drawn up by Danny Mitchell, who was to be the consultant engineer on the project. The erection of the Cross was put up for public tender and the contract was secured by Mr Frank McWeeney of Hartley, Carrick-on-Shannon, the figure being £300, on the date the tender was accepted, April 23rd 1951
The date for the unveiling and blessing of the Cross was fixed for September 30th, 1951, and meantime work on the construction of the monument went ahead. The materials required in the construction of the Cross presented a problem, as they had to be transported up the steep slopes of the Hill on foot and by donkey and sleigh.
The text of the Apostolic Blessing imparted by Pope Pius XII on the occasion of the unveiling and blessing of the Cross read as follows:
Vatican City 27.9.1951. Most Rev. Bishop McNamee, Longford.
Occasion : Blessing Cross Sheemore commemorating Holy Year Definition Assumption Dogma, Holy Father cordially imparts Apostolic Blessing to Your Lordship, Pastor, Clergy, faithful, participating ceremony and all who assisted erecting cross MONTINI. Substitute.
If the name sounds familiar, it should be, it’s the family name of Pope Paul VI, then Secretary of State at the Vatican, so to be made Archbishop of Milan, and later to succeed Pope John XXIII, to the See of Peter.
The official blessing and Unveiling on Sunday 30th September, 1951, was to be performed by Ven. Archdeacon Donohue, P.P. V.F., Parish Priest of Kiltoghert. Bishop McNamee was unable to attend the function and sent a letter of aplogy. On that day the late Archdeacon was approaching his eightieth year, but he still insisted on making the climb up the steep slopes of the Hill unaided. Some who made the ascent that day still remember the Archdeacon’s feat, and recall that he looked the picture of health making the climb. The Kiltubrid Pipe Band also climbed to the Cross and played on the summit of the Hill, while the Choir under the direction of Rev. Fr. Woods C.C., also took part in the ceremonies. An inspiring lecture was given on the summit by Canon James Butler, Drumlish. From a far distance the thousands making the ascent and crowding around the base of the newly constructed Cross resembled ants on an ant-hill, or a swarm of bees descending on Sheemore.
By 1958 the Sheemore Holy Year Cross was being floodlit intermittently, thanks to the advent of rural electrification and the steadfastness of the Sheemore Holy Year Committee. The permanent lighting of the Cross was proving a serious problem, financing the project was causing difficulties. However, by 1966 this problem had been permanently solved, thanks to the generosity of Leitrim-born Patrick Beirne, a native of Corlona, Drumsna, with an address at Palm Beach, Florida, USA, who ensured that the Cross would be illuminated continuously from sunset to sunrise. Patrick who had emigrated to the United States some forty years before, was a retired manager of Metropolitan Life Assurance Company of New York. He first intimated his wishes regarding the permanent illumination of the Cross in a letter to Rev. Pat Claffey, C.C., Gowel, the then President of the Sheemore Memorial Cross Committee. Fr. Claffey informed the Committee, who, after the consideration of the kind offer, asked Fr Claffey to convey to him the heavy commitment which he was undertaking. In reply, Patrick stated that he was donating £1,000 towards the illumination of the Cross, and providing padded seats in St.Patrick’s Church, Gowel, “for the honour and glory of God and in memory of my parents.” At a subsequent meeting of the Committee, arrangements were made to have the Cross permanently illuminated in accordance with Patrick’s wishes. At a meeting of the Committee, sincere thanks and appreciation of his example and princely generosity in providing for the all-night illumination of the Sheemore Holy Year Cross was unanimoulsy adopted. The Committee also recorded its thanks to Fr. Claffey, who carried out the negotiations, and asked him to convey their sentiments to Patrick Beirne.
And so today, whether you pass it by on foot or otherwise, from near and far, this splendid memorial Cross stands majestically set atop historic Sheemore, for all to view and admire, day or night. There are those who say it’s a contradiction in itself, having a Christian Cross surmounting a Pagan burial mound. But, for the men who dreamed up the idea, and worked unstintingly to live and see their dream come true, it’s a monument and a symbol of the Faith and fortitude of all the people in Leitrim, and a credit to all who helped make it a reality.
This article first appeared in the Leitrim Observer 1975 in “Impressions of Lovely Leitrim.” By Willie B.
Image Courtesy and Copyright of Phil Burns, Sligo