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'Motor accidents and tragic situations take a lot out of you' - All-Ireland winner recalls time as a priest

Former Galway hurler Iggy Clarke is next up to feature on Laochra Gael.

Iggy Clarke speaking on Laochra Gael.
Iggy Clarke speaking on Laochra Gael.
Image: Nemeton TV/TG4

Updated Mar 18th 2020, 8:27 PM

FORMER GALWAY HURLER Iggy Clarke is next up on this season’s Laochra Gael, as he recalls the time he served as a priest in his upcoming episode.

The 1980 All-Ireland winner offers a fascinating insight into various aspects of his life, including the factors which led to him questioning this vocation and ultimately leaving the priesthood.

Shortly after his ordination, he began to struggle with his new position in the parish of Loughrea where he was stationed to work as a curate.

“People responded to me differently and interacted with me differently,” Clarke recalls of those days.

“I was no longer Iggy as such, even though it graduated to Fr Iggy which was nice in itself.

It’s seven days a week and I suppose, going out to motor accidents and different tragic situations would take a lot out of you.”

Clarke continues by explaining the kind of compassion he showed to those who came to them in a time of crisis.

I suppose a number of people would have asked me to baptise their children that were born out of wedlock. They might have been refused by somebody else. Here’s a precious little gift of a child and who would I be to refuse a baptism?

“A number of women asked me to do their marriage if they were pregnant that might have been refused as well.

“To me, people’s lives were unique, they were sacred to them and I was there to encourage and to help in a human, caring way.”

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After finishing up with playing for the Galway hurlers, Clarke says he began to suffer from burnout.

He started to doubt his commitment to the priesthood and requested a sabbatical year from the bishop before travelling to America.

He returned to Loughrea and informed his parishioners of his decision to leave the priesthood.

“I didn’t know what to expect or what to do really. I was very conscious of knowing the people so well and they knew me probably inside out and I knew well that I’d be disappointing them.

“When I saw the different reactions of people as I spoke, I found myself getting quite emotional because they were getting emotional. The next thing I saw this woman four or five seats down and she was in floods of tears and then I got all emotional myself.”

Clarke went on to study a counselling course in UCC before later going on to pursue a degree in psychology.

Clarke’s wife Mariel also features in this Laochra Gael episode, and recalls how some people accused her of being the reason that the former Galway hurler left the priesthood.

People did say to me, ‘you’re the one that Fr Iggy Clarke left the priesthood [for]. You took a good man. There were many times I was told I was the Jezebel.

“Even the parish priest stood on my door, and he was new to the parish. And he said, ‘you’re the one they’re all talking about.’”

Iggy Clarke’s Laochra Gael episode will be aired on TG4 next Thursday, 26 March at 9.30pm.

First published today at 16.01

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