Former Fintona minister retires after ‘34 years and three months’

Dean John Hay.

Dean John Hay.

A CHURCH of Ireland clergyman who administered to victims following the Omagh bombing has retired from his post as Dean of Raphoe.

Dean John Hay, 68, served as a minister in Fintona from 1989 until 2003 when he returned to his native Donegal to complete his term of ‘34 years and three months’ as a clergyman.


Born in Creeslough, he received his primary education in the local COI National School before his parents, Thomas and Katie, moved to Manorcunningham, with their young family.

Having been reared on a farm, he went to agricultural college to pursue his interest in that field before, eventually, answering the call of God.

More than 45 years ago, Dean Hay proudly recalls, he became the first ever volunteer for the charity Gorta, when he took six heifers to the poor village of Medak in southern India. He was 21 at the time.

In his mid-20s, the then Mr Hay enrolled in the Church of Ireland Theological College in Dublin. Dean Hay was ordained in June 1979 “aged 34 and three months” before taking up a position as curate in Newtownards, Co Down, where he spent another two-and-a-half-years.

In 1989, after seven years in Newtownbutler, Dean Hay moved to Fintona where he was to spend the next 14 years. He admitted the lowest points of all his time as a clergyman were the Omagh and Enniskillen bombs.

He was stationed in Fintona when the awful news came through.

“I rushed to Omagh hospital to minister to the injured and the floors of the hospital were red with blood.
“I found myself shouting inside ‘how could anyone be so inhumane,’ but at the same time I was so excited at seeing nurses, doctors and paramedics, and ordinary people, doing loving and caring things in the middle of the tragedy that was Omagh.”


He continued, “None of us, as chaplains of different denominations, were asked at any time if we were Catholic, Protestant, Church of Ireland, Methodist or Presbyterian or whatever. If someone needed a hand held or a prayer said, we would just say it.”

Dean Hay moved back to Donegal in 2003 to become the Dean of Raphoe. In 2005, he hit the headlines when he lived for two days and two nights in an Indian fishing villager’s hut in the middle of Raphoe during which he raised €5,000 for the tsunami victims in South East Asia.

Dean Hay spoke of the satisfaction of working through his own difficulties and being able to identify with parishioners who had been diagnosed with cancer.

“I have lived my faith through difficult times and I hope my congregation will have seen something of the strength that God can give during difficult periods and that faith in him is worthwhile,” he explained.

“I was diagnosed with ME and cancer, then I fell off a ladder and my faith still held up and God was as close as when the sun was shining every day.”

Dean Hay said himself and his wife Patricia will spend the next few months relaxing and settling into their new home in Fintona. After that, he says, they will help look after their newest grandchild and he will finally have time to spend restoring old horse drawn farm machinery which he has accumulated over the last three decades.

“I had been looking forward to travelling and climbing hills and mountains but the fall from he ladder has changed all that,” he concluded.

Ironically, Dean Hay pointed out that he was aged 34 and three months when he was ordained and had spent the exact same length of time as a clergyman when he retired last weekend.


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