Residents of a remote Irish Island have had their prayers answered after it was confirmed measures have been taken to ensure they will not miss out on their most cherished Christmas tradition.
It had been feared this year's Christmas Day Mass might not go ahead following the departure of tiny Tory Island's permanent parish priest almost three months ago.
Father Kieran Creagh had spent over four years living on the Co. Donegal isle where he earned the respect of the tight-knit community by learning Irish.
But since Creagh's move back to his native Belfast in early October, the 150-strong community has been without a full-time clergyman, even though temporary arrangements have since been in place for a substitute Catholic priest to be ferried over to the isolated Irish-speaking isle on weekends.
Although church leaders at the Diocese of Raphoe have still not secured a permanent replacement cleric for the island, its residents have spoken of their relief on learning that arrangements have been made for a priest to travel from the mainland to celebrate Christmas Day Mass.
Welcoming the news, “King of Tory” Patsy Dan Rodgers said, "I'm delighted to say our Christmas Mass is going ahead. We miss not having a full-time priest over here and were sad to see Father Creagh leave because he was very respected over here.
"But we've been lucky enough to have had cover on the island for Sunday Mass ever since and we're extremely grateful for this, because priests are so scarce these days.”
Rodgers, 72, who makes a point of personally greeting every passenger ferry that lands on the far-flung island, said religion still plays as important a role in the community as the flourishing Irish language.
He said the remnants of a sixth century monastery, founded by St. Columba, that still lie on the island, demonstrate the outpost's strong Christian tradition.
"Christmas on Tory Island is like nowhere else. It starts on December 23 when Santa is flown over here in a helicopter. It's a magical occasion for the children here, because he arrives with gifts,” Rodgers said.
"There's another tradition which goes on here on Christmas Eve, where the older people are given gifts, like boxes of chocolates. And then of course there's the Christmas Mass, which is hugely important to us all."
Rodgers, who has “reigned” over the island for 22 years, added, "We've Christmas lights up on the island now and it looks very festive. There's nowhere I'd rather be on Christmas than here."