A week after I learned of Billy McNeil’s death, I decided to organise a mass for him at the Society of African Missions church in the Western suburb of Cork, where I have been living for the past ten years.
I chose this particular church because of an emotional attachment I had to it, having been a student in the adjacent college between 1950 and 1952.
I contacted Celtic and asked for the club’s support. Being Celtic, that support came in the form of a large, colour photograph of Billy and Celtic jersey with Billy’s name and number 5 printed on it: both items delivered by courier to my home.
Two days before the mass on the May 16, a lady from the club’s PR office telephoned my daughter Katherine to inform her that Bobby Lennox and John Clark would be arriving in Cork to represent the Lisbon Lions.
I just couldn’t believe it when I heard the news.
By then, the Celtic supporter’s clubs in Cork were aware of the mass and on the night turned up in big numbers wearing the Celtic jersey and scarves. The deputy Lord Mayor of Cork sat in the front pew alongside Bobby and John.
Prior to the mass, I had booked a string trio from the Cork School of Music to play appropriate music. A Welsh tenor, Ryan Morgan, sang Abide with Me, Ave Maria, The Lord is My Shepherd and Panis Angelicus during the liturgy.
When it came to the offertory, Fr. Michael O’Leary SMA invited Bobby Lennox and John Clark to bring the jersey and picture up to the altar. Fr. Michael and his fellow priest Fr.Kevin O’Connor SMA turned both items around to face the congregation to loud and sustained applause.
At the end of the mass, Ryan Morgan led the congregation in a rousing rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone.’ I had to fight hard to hold back the tears.
Afterwards, my daughter said to me, ‘Dad, I felt so much love here tonight.’
I am going to present the jersey and photograph to the two Celtic supporter’s clubs in Cork.