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Dublin: 11 °C Saturday 10 October, 2015

Column: Cardinal Rules – The Easter epic

What happens when two rival live Passion Plays collide? This and the other Easter Weekend happenings from the (not) Primate of All Ireland.

(Not) Cardinal Sean Brady

EASTER. A TIME for suffering followed by great joy. Or in the case of Fr O’ Rourke this week, just a time for suffering.

Good Friday


Most of the town is outside the church for Fr O’Rourke’s annual live action Passion play. Fr O’Rourke is all business with his clipboard and his pen, as he marshals three Roman centurions.

“Just waiting for Jesus to arrive,” he grins at everybody. The crowd cheers.


A rather tubby ginger gentleman with a leather jacket and a frighteningly large perm, taps Fr O’ Rourke on the shoulder. Fr O’ Rourke looks inordinately pleased to see him.

“That’s Blobby,” Fr Lawlor tells me.

“Who?” I ask.

“Blobby Bobby Burke,” replies Fr Lawlor.

It turns out that “Blobby” is a local “character.” It appears that being a “character” involves him sitting outside Quinns pub on a regular basis and shouting abuse at random strangers. It also appears that he is to be Jesus. The regular Jesus, local actor Vinnie “the Chin” McDermott, has allegedly gone to Hollywood to seek fame and fortune.


Consternation as Fr O’Rourke and his make-up department (Annie McCann from the local salon) realise that Jesus’s robe is going to be a little too tight.

“Nobody told me this was a bring your own bed sheet deal,” says a flushed Bobby.

There is a mini conference, and Bobby is placated. His Cross is hoisted upon his shoulder.

“Do I get paid before or after I get crucified?” asks Bobby.

“After,” says Fr O’Rourke.

“Come on so,” says Bobby as he starts to leg it up the high street with his crucifix.


Fr O’Rourke urges the crowd to act the part with some being advised to cry for Jesus, while others are asked to hurl abuse. The crowd respond with gusto, and we hear “Oh Jesus, poor Jesus” and “Crucify the King of the Jews” and “Where’s that fiver you owe me, you fecker?”


Fr O’Rourke has somehow double booked two Simon of Cyrenes. There is a tussle over which of them will help Jesus carry the Cross. It is finally settled when Bobby assures them that “If ye don’t stop the messin’ I’ll lay ye out with a box!”


We arrive at “Golgotha” (a hill just across the road from Molloys cash and carry).

Unfortunately the local monks have also had the same idea, and their Passion play pageant arrives at the same time. They have a pious, slim-looking Jesus, and a mime. Fr O’ Rourke is furious. A discussion between both parties ensues. Fr O’ Rourke is particularly annoyed about the use of the mime as an intermediary.


Discussions break down.


Bobby bolts for the top of the hill as Fr O’ Rourke urges him on. The monk’s Jesus sprints up the hill like a gazelle.


Somehow, slim Jesus’s legs make contact with Bobby’s. Slim Jesus rolls down the hill.


The Roman Centurions, and Fr O’Rourke, attempt to get Bobby up on the Cross. Bobby’s weight makes this rather difficult.


Finally. The Cross is up. Bobby roars in victory. The crowd cheers.


In all the excitement Fr O’Rourke’s hand catches Bobby’s robe. Bobby’s robe comes off. Somebody screams. The crowd starts to panic.


In his efforts to maintain some modesty, Bobby leans forward. Unfortunately his weight takes the Cross with him. It snaps.

Screams of terror and general disgust as Bobby slides down the hill face down on the Cross.


Fr Lawlor and I collect Fr O’Rourke from the police station. We drive home in silence. A silence only broken when Fr Lawlor asks about Bobby’s friction burns.

Holy Saturday

A typical Holy Saturday. Nobody knows what to do, as we are caught in that strange void between the tension of the sufferings of Good Friday and the divine joy of Easter Sunday.

We opt to watch Ben Hur. Fr O’ Neill cries when Ben Hur’s mammy and sister are cured of leprosy. But not as much as he cried during Sleepless in Seattle at Christmas.

Fr Lawlor spends the day working on his Jesus on the Cross diorama. After the appropriate length of contemplation he places Jesus in a paper mache tomb, complete with digital countdown.

Fr O’ Rourke stays in his room.

Easter Sunday


Fr O’Rourke emerges from his room. Everything is forgotten because of the day that’s in it.

“He is risen!” laughs Fr Byrne.  Fr O’Rourke smiles weakly.


Best. Mass. Ever.


After dinner, and Easter Eggs, Fr Lawlor shows us his completed Jesus rises from the dead diorama. We all gather around the paper mache tomb, as the clock runs down to zero.

The atmosphere is electric.

“Here comes Jesus!” shouts Fr Lawlor.


No sign of Jesus.


Fr Lawlor checks his foot pump. “Hold on a second,” he says.

Some of the priests start shuffling impatiently.


“He is risen!” shouts Fr Lawlor as he stamps again on the foot pump.

Still no sign of Jesus.


Fr Lawlor discovers infant baby Jesus, from his Christmas diorama, in the hose of the foot pump.

“The irony,” he chuckles.


Jesus is most definitely risen. Unfortunately he has shot out of the roof of the tomb and hit Fr O’ Rourke in the forehead. Fr Lawlor is blaming the air pressure. Fr O’ Rourke is blaming Fr Lawlor. Fr O’ Neill is crying again because he doesn’t like the sight of blood.

A slightly concussed Fr O’ Rourke spends the rest of the day in his room.


We finish the day watching Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”, all of us knowing we share the same unspoken wish that it was in 3D.

Read previous Cardinal Rules columns>

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