Timmy Manley admits that he was initially roped into joining his local Legion of Mary praesidium – but now, 62 years later, he continues to serve in the lay apostolate.
The Watergrasshill and Glenville branch of the Legion was started in 1952, one the earlier ones to start in Co. Cork, Mr Manley reckons.
“The man that started it, he’s only dead with five years, he was 93 when he died,” he tells me. “We would be one of the earlier praesidium started in Cork. I don’t know how many were started before and there were plenty started after us. But most of them have been and gone.”
Mr Manley himself joined in 1959, persuaded by his brother and friends: “Ah sure, my brother was in it at the time. Other fellows then told me to join, and this fella pulled me into the meeting one night and I’m there since,” he finishes, laughing.
Only a small few of those legionaries who began with him are still around, Mr Manley explains. “Most of them are dead and gone, though there might be one or two still. The man that started it was the longest in it, he was in it for 63 years. I’m nearly catching up with him now!
Before he joined the Legion, Mr Manley was already involved in work in his local parish of Glenville as an altar server, and helped the Legion out from time to time.
“I used to be an altar server, and I’d often give the Legion a hand before I joined them,” Mr Manley says. “I was always around to do what was to be done. I suppose at the time we were farming at home and our father died when I was only 10 and you know now, it was a struggle for a while until I got going. My brother was only 12 like. But I always gave them a hand, as often as I could.
After he joined, Mr Manley took part in all the activities the Legion carried out: “We were visiting the hospitals, then we’re doing work around the parish, then we’re at the church cleaning and we’ve a Mass rock alongside us that we look after. We do a newsletter as well. We send that to all the parish during the year. We look after the processions then and put up bunting. We visit the patients in hospital and around the place. Anyone that’s sick, we’ll try to go and see them.”
The Church in Ireland has changed greatly since Mr Manley first joined. He says it’s “a different scene now”.
“Oh yeah, the Church has changed a lot now you know,” he begins. “There’s a different scene now because the Church has changed so much, and the Mass has changed so much. There was no minister of the Eucharist or anything. When I was serving at Mass, you couldn’t touch the chalice or anything at that time.
“When I was an altar server, I used to be learning the Latin. The altar servers now have nothing to learn. It’s a different scene altogether. It’s easier to get on with the priest now then it was at that time. You can talk to the priest better now, I think.
“The schoolmasters and everything that time were different altogether. Corporal punishment was there when I was going to school. Most of the priests were alright. Glenville is the same parish as Watergrasshill, it’s the one priest doing the two. The parish priest that time when I was an altar server, he’d come down and say Mass once a month. He was a tough man. We had a curate that time in Glenville, we had a parish priest in Watergrasshill, which was the parish church.
“There’s only one priest now, the way things are going. We’ve only one Mass in Glenville now and that’s every Sunday at 10am.”
When Mr Manley first joined the Legion, there were 14 or 15 in his local branch, he says. “Now, we’re down to six. After 69 years, six is not bad, it’s good to see it going with only six of us. There’s hardly anyone under 50, out of the six of us, there’s no one.”
He is hopeful that the 100th anniversary of the Legion will spark a renewed interest in the apostolate, he says. “We’ve asked several people to join over the years. It’s a different scenario these days because people, they don’t seem to have time. We were at an advantage when I was growing up around Glenville. There was little to do that time. Saturday night that time was a night you’d be getting ready for Sunday. Now Saturday night is when everybody is going out.”
For Mr Manley and his fellow Legionaries, the weekly meetings provided a social as well as prayerful aspect to their lives. He is looking forward to celebrating their 70th anniversary next year.
“Years ago now, when the Legion meeting was all over, there’d be a few lads starting to play cards,” he says. “It was kind of a social night as well as a meeting. We’ll be 70 years next year, please God we’ll be all around for it. It was August 1952, I think it was August 7, that we started. Hopefully we’ll have the 70th anyway, some kind of a celebration. We had our 60th, our 50th, our 40th – we even had our 21st. We had those kinds of social nights. You’d hope by that stage we’d be over the worst of this.”