Jim and Ann Ryan have been fined €300 each for traveling some 70km to attend Mass in March 2021, a breach of Ireland's COVID restrictions at the time.

"I will go to jail before I pay it. I would rather go to jail, without a shadow of a doubt," Jim recently told the Sunday World.

"I have no intention of paying them a fine for me going to Mass - for doing what I have done my whole life."

The couple, who live in Co Roscommon, drove some 70km to attend mass at Our Lady of Lourdes in Mullahoran, Co Cavan on March 28, 2021, which was Palm Sunday in the Catholic religion.

At the time, Ireland was in the midst of Level 5 lockdown, which dictated that people could not travel more than 5km from their homes. Additionally, places of worship had been closed since the end of December except for private prayer.

However, Father PJ Hughes of Mullahoran parish in Co Cavan, who was cautioned in November 2020 for saying Mass in defiance of lockdowns, announced that he would be saying Palm Sunday Mass despite the restrictions.

"We are committing a grave mistake by rejecting our Lord and God Jesus Christ by staying away because government officials say we must," Fr Hughes said in the lead-up to Palm Sunday.

Jim told the Sunday World that he and Ann read online about the Palm Sunday Mass in Co Cavan and how Fr Hughes was not going to turn anyone away.

"This was Palm Sunday," Jim said, "the day Jesus rode into Nazareth on a donkey knowing the terrible torture and death he was facing and He kept going for our sins. Going to Mass that Sunday was extremely important to us."

Jim added that his wife had just gone through "a life-saving medical procedure and we wanted to say thank you to God."

Jim and Ann Ryan appeared before Judge Raymond Finnegan in Cavan District Court in April on a summons for breaching the 5km limit on March 28, 2021.

In court, Garda Barry Mulligan gave evidence that he encountered the Ryans at a checkpoint leading to the church, the second checkpoint the couple passed through that morning. Mulligan said he had advised the Ryans that he was issuing them a Fixed Charge Penalty Notice for being 5km from their home.

Despite this, the Ryans continued on their journey and attended the Palm Sunday Mass hosted by Fr PJ Hughes in Co Cavan. (Fr Hughes was fined €500 for the lockdown breach and, like the Ryans, said he would rather take jail time than pay the fine.)

During the hearing, Jim told Judge Finnegan: "Catholic lives matter!"

While the judge agreed, he said it was not an excuse to break the law.

"You are not a judge," Jim told Judge Finnegan in court. "Jesus would be ashamed of you!"

The Ryans, who have no prior convictions, were convicted and each fined €300 with three months to pay. They filed their appeals the same day they were convicted.

Speaking outside the courthouse, Jim told The Anglo-Celt: “Fr P.J. Hughes, a very honourable man, and a true priest, who has honoured his vocation.

“The judge said in there that that wasn’t our local church. It was our local church because it was the nearest church to us that was open. All the rest of them were closed and in defiance of the constitution."

The Ryans maintain that the lockdown restrictions were unconstitutional. 

"Article 44 of the Constitution says that we have the right to practice our religion in public," Jim told Sunday World.

"It also says in Article 15 that the Dáil cannot impose a law that goes against the Constitution - and this law did!"

Ann said: "I decided on that morning that I was going to honour one of the 10 Commandments, which was to honour the Sabbath Day.

"On the balance of things, God's law was more important to me than Man's.

"Man's law is fallible. God's is not."