Tyrone reclaims historic Bard of Armagh priest

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A Tyrone parish has launched a three day cultural festival to reclaim one of Ulster’s most famous historical figures, the poor, wandering harper called Phelim Brady, otherwise known as the Bard of Armagh.

On the 300th anniversary of his death, Desertcreat Parish Church will bring to light the secret story of locally born priest and bishop, Patrick Donnelly, who ministered in the days of the Penal Laws while disguised as Brady and living as a fugitive.

Nowadays his origins have been eclipsed by the famous annual Bard of Armagh competition in Armagh, however, the founders of the new festival, called ‘Mitre and Minstrel’ want to set the record straight.

“Over the past year we have been getting ready to host our first festival based on the true story of the Bard of Armagh”, said Errol Hassin from the parish.

Centre of the festival will be Bishop Donnelly’s grave at Desertcreat. According to Errol, his body was carried by night after his death from County Armagh and buried secretly at Desertcreat.

“Patrick was a Catholic Bishop but at the time of his burial, Desertcreat had been Protestant for about 100 years, though it had been a Christian worship site since about the year 500 AD.

“The festival will also see the launch of our new history book by Maura Johnston with a forward from the Archbishop of Armagh. The book called Kings Bards and Battles includes pieces on the Bard of Armagh, Poems from local Schools, Desertcreat, World Wars, Dean Swift, MacGregor Greer and Harry Ferguson to name a few.”

The festival, which runs from September 23 to 25, is also due to feature on the UTV programme Lesser Spotted Journeys. Patrick Donnelly lived through one of the most turbulent periods in Ireland’s history, the second half of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th, a period that was to witness the final total eclipse of the great Gaelic Clans.