Fr Tynan became a very close friend of my family and I, at least partly because we found that we had so much in common.
Having agreed to give this talk, however, I began to have certain misgivings about my own ability to do it. I believe that there are other people within and without the parish who are perhaps more qualified to give this tribute. Furthermore, I also feel that is difficult in the space of a few minutes to do justice to a man like Fr Tynan, who had such a multi-faceted career. There were so many aspects to the man – priest, community activist and leader, visionary (ahead of his time), archaeologist, historian, environmentalist, teacher, sportsman (he loved fishing and shooting - he was a great shot at woodcock), rambler / walker and lover of English literature and drama . In terms of many of these activities, Fr Tynan clearly saw the cultural and heritage tourism potential of Kilronan parish and places like it long before national government and local government officials did. This is why I called him a visionary a few moments ago – he was ahead of his time in so many things. In this respect, it is fitting that this talk on Fr Tynan is given during Heritage Week as he was precisely the type of person who appreciated the economic and social value of heritage to communities in the West and Midlands of Ireland. Above all, Fr Tynan was a man of deep faith but also charm. He was a great conversationalist who could talk to anyone on equal terms – rich or poor, young or old, man or woman. These attributes made him a great motivator of people, being able to get them to work for the common good. Father Tynan was a born leader but at the same time always a servant of his flock.
Fr Tynan was born in 1939 to a farming background in the parish of Legan, Co. Longford, close to the Westmeath border as marked by the River Inny. Rivers and lakes were certainly to play a large part in his life. His uncle and godfather was the legendary General Sean McEoin – the famous Blacksmith of Ballinalee – who fought so gallantly during the War of Independence, served as Chief of Staff of the Irish Army in the 30s, took up politics and eventually became Fine Gael Minister of Defence during the 1950s. McEoin was a man known for his bravery, his love of the outdoors and his faith. We can recognise much of the Blacksmith of Ballinalee in his nephew Fr Tynan.
Fr Tynan went on to attend boarding school at St Mel’s College, Longford, and then went on to train for the priesthood at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth. I believe that English and French were his special subjects there. I remember him talking about his love of English literature and drama over dinner in my house one bright summer’s evening back in the late 1990s. This explains his phenomenal ability to produce excellent plays and get the best from his amateur, often very young, actors and actresses. Fr Tynan’s immediate post-ordination years were spent as a curate in Athlone, Ferbane and Ballymahon. In these places, he began to gain a reputation not only as a priest but also as a community organiser. Note also that these places lay on or close to the Shannon and Inny Rivers – fishing opportunities must have abounded!
In 1978 Father Tynan, along with other priests from the Diocese of Ardagh, got the opportunity to serve on the mission to Chipata in Zambia. He loved Africa with all its wildness and colour, going on long car journeys to remote parts of that continent (fishing, for example, in Lakes Malawi and Tanyanika). In particular, he loved the African people and relished the opportunity to help his flock in the Chipata district achieve certain economic and social goals. Again, community activism was an essential part of Fr Tynan’s ministry. Those of us who knew him, know that he constantly talked about Africa and was in contact with many of his old parishioners there right up until the time the onset of Alzeimer’s Disease made this impossible. I believe (but cannot confirm) that Fr Tynan, when realising that his time as parish priest in Kilronan was up, asked his bishop to allow him return to Zambia but for obvious reasons of health, this request was refused and he was instead sent to Killenummery.
In 1985 Fr Tynan returned to Ireland from Africa and was sent to Drumshanbo (on Lough Allen) to serve as curate there, which he did until 1990. During these years, he continued his ministry there, along with his community activism. During his time there, he was involved in the development of the Mayflower Community Centre and the setting up of the Lough Allen Development Company. He made many friends in Drumshanbo, such as Sean Wynne, who remained close to him to the end of his life.
As many of you know, Fr Tynan was appointed parish priest of Kilronan parish in 1990 and remained with us for seventeen years – seventeen years full of happiness and achievement for him. With respect to Drumshanbo, I feel that Fr Tynan’s almost two decades in Kilronan were the apex of his career and was the place where he achieved the most. I have often wondered about this. I sincerely believe that Kilronan Parish with its mountains, bogs, rivers, lakes and its traditional meadows, along with the people that this landscape bred, suited his personality and interests. Both were made for one another and this must be one of the reasons why his ministry in Kilronan was so fruitful and why we remember him tonight. Fr Tynan, a man of the outdoors, was exactly the right man for Kilronan parish, with its rugged landscape and fine heritage – the Heart of Ireland if you like. I could not imagine Fr Tynan suiting an urban parish, although I know he would have made it his business to do the best he could in such a scenario.
Fr Tynan during his time in Kilronan laid the foundation for so many initiatives, often heritage related, that attract people to the parish today and provide at least some income for its inhabitants. As stated, he saw the potential of the parish and its people. Fr Tynan was one of the key figures or the key figure in establishing the Miner’s Way and the Historical Trail (seemingly he was one of the first in the country to realise that walking tourism was one way for rural communities to boost their economies), The Arigna Mining Experience, The Tidy Towns Competition and many other initiatives. Above all, it seems to me that Fr Tynan really wanted the people of Kilronan themselves to appreciate and take pleasure in the extremely rich natural and cultural heritage of this parish. I remember him taking the young on walks through Knockranny Woods or bringing them on boat trips out onto Lough Meelagh, reminding them and, by extension, their parents that there is much beauty in the natural world around us. Again, while very traditional in some aspects of his personality, in other respects Fr Tynan was a man ahead of his time.
In terms of honouring his achievements and work in Kilronan, the parish has erected a panel to Fr Tynan’s memory in the amenity at the eastern end of Lough Meelagh, beside the lake and woods he loved so much in life. The footbridge in Altagowlan over the Arigna River on the Miner’s Way is rightly named after him. He fought so hard to get funding and access issues sorted for this walking trail. In my opinion, however, the greatest honour bestowed on Fr Tynan was at his funeral in 2014. At this funeral, I noted that a number of young people were visibly distressed – a clear indication of Fr Tynan’s popularity and ability to connect with people during his time with us. At the time, my younger son was in boarding school but on his next Exeat, he insisted on first paying his respects at the latter’s grave before going home. In this respect, as further proof of this, note the affectionate articles about Fr Tynan written by various people now in their 20s in the book Kilronan – Then and Now. Fr Tynan clearly inspired many of the young in our parish during his time with us and did immense good for the church that he served during his almost fifty years as a priest. He represented all that was and is best in the Catholic Church.
The Catholic Church in Ireland has got a lot of bad publicity in recent years, some but not all of it justified. In many ways, I feel that young people in our parish and, indeed, rural Ireland in general, are lucky as they can get a different perspective to what is so often published in the press or presented on our airwaves concerning the Catholic Church and its clergy. Thinking of the example not only of Fr Tynan but other priests, they can see the excellent spiritual and temporal work that these men have done in the past and still do in our communities. In particular, tonight as we honour Fr Tynan’s memory, I would ask the young people of our parish to remember this point. Again, in Fr Tynan’s memory and in the spirit of this week, I would call upon the same young people to protect and safeguard the natural and cultural heritage of this parish throughout their lives and to pass it on intact to future generations.