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Dublin: 12 °C Saturday 1 November, 2014

Column: Cardinal Rules (Part 28) – On my pal Padre Pio

This week, the (not) Primate of All-Ireland marks the anniversary of Padre Pio’s canonisation with his recollections of their boyhood friendship… and their caravan holiday in Tramore.

(Not) Cardinal Sean Brady

THIS WEEK MARKS the ninth anniversary of the canonisation of Padre Pio. I have written elsewhere about my close personal ties with Pio. Indeed when I was young, both he and my family went on frequent holidays together.

Fortunately I kept diaries at the time, and today I would like to share with you the best moments from a particularly memorable week away in Tramore.

Monday

We are driving to Tramore. Pio and I are sharing the back seat. Mammy tells him to stop picking his “bloody stigmata.” Fortunately she means it in the actual rather than the pejorative sense.

We have to make frequent stops because Pio insists on jamming his head in his window. My father is getting more annoyed. “Some day the handle will break, and you’ll be stuck like that. Then you’ll be sorry.” Nevertheless Pio seems unfazed. In fact I wonder if that is hope I see in his eyes.

Thirty miles outside Kilkenny Pio is struck by one of his unpredictable bouts of levitation. We have to continue on our journey with him stuck to the ceiling of the car. Mammy blesses herself and thanks God that we don’t have one of those fancy new cars with a sun roof, otherwise Pio would be floating away over the fields. “And then where would we be?” she says.

We arrive in Tramore. Daddy grumbles as he cleans the back seat of the car “All this bleeding can’t be good for the leather.”

Meanwhile, we tie Pio to a bollard because there is a strong breeze.

Tuesday

Our first full day. The sun is shining. The beach beckons. Pio unpacks his suitcase and takes out his swimming trunks. “Always wear swimming trunks that are three sizes too small,” he advises me “that way the subsequent pain will make you feel closer to God.”

Down at the beach Pio stands in the water for three hours under the blazing sun. He is wearing his robes and his three sizes too small swimming trunks. He starts crying for the last half hour, but pulls himself together after giving himself a smack in the face.

Daddy and Mammy read their Bibles, and I make a big sandcastle.

Wednesday

To the amusements where Pio is particularly taken with the bumpers. He sits motionless in his bumper car and lets everybody crash into him. Then when his turn is finished he shouts “Again! Again!” Mammy rolls her eyes and fishes in her hand bag for more money.

Later he insists on going headfirst down the big slide.

Thursday

Over breakfast in our mobile home Pio apologises for the noise from his room during the night. He tells us he was fighting Satan “and a big giant rabbit.” Then he shrieks at something in the corner of the room and ducks under the table. We attempt to coax him out with the promise of an extra long Rosary, but it doesn’t work. We leave him on his own in the mobile home.

We return later that day and he is nowhere to be seen. A few minutes just before bed Daddy finds him asleep on the bathroom ceiling. Daddy is raging because he really needs to go, and it’s always harder to do it when someone is watching you.

Friday

Fish and chips for dinner. Pio keeps asking the man in the chip shop for extra vinegar so he can pour it onto his stigmata. There is lots of screaming, but in fairness I don’t think I’ve ever seen him happier.

Saturday

As per tradition, Pio insists on making egg salad sandwiches for lunch. Naturally he bleeds all over them which doesn’t bother him, because as he points out to us, “I like them extra soggy.” Meanwhile my father complains, saying, “Would it kill him to use a bit of mayonnaise like normal people?” but a quick warning glance from my mother silences him.

Sunday

Mass. We all head to the church, except for Pio who says he will stay behind to read the papers. We meet him at the church, and my father starts muttering about “Bi-location this” and “bi-location that” and then says crankily, “I hope you’re enjoying reading the papers.” Pio says nothing and smiles, but quickly remembers who he is and gives himself a Chinese burn.

Monday

On the way home Pio insists on sitting in the passenger seat, and the back seat, and if I’m not mistaken I can also hear him praying in the car boot. Daddy is not impressed because he has to listen to Pio in the front telling him which is the shortest way home, while Pio in the back has me and Mammy squeezed up against the door.

Despite this we all agree that it was the best holiday ever.

Read more from Cardinal Rules: On the presidential campaign trail >

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