Rev Paul Willoughby and his parishioners are already looking ahead to the annual Garden Fete, which attracts thousands of visitors every year. Set in the garden of the Church of Ireland Rectory in Durrus on the second Wednesday in August, this renowned event has been running for over 20 years and is the largest garden fete outside Dublin. Fortunately the rector’s wife, Amanda, is a keen gardener! It is run to support local charitable projects and the work of Christian Aid.
Rev Willoughby was appointed Rector of Kilmocomogue Union of Parishes in 1994 and, as fate would have it, his arrival or initiation to Durrus coincided with the annual garden fete.
“It’s one of the highlights on the Sheep’s Head every year,” says the rector “a time when friends, families, neighbours and the local community all come together and celebrate.”
Kilmocomogue Union of parishes covers from Durrus and Bantry down to the end of the Beara peninsula.
Rev Willoughby says the greatest thing about his work is the variety. “It’s a very rewarding job…one day you’re teaching Religious Education to children in the local national schools, the next you’re at the bedside of someone in Bantry General Hospital and the next you’re planning a garden fete. There’s never a dull moment. I particularly love working with the children in the local primary schools…their innocence and honesty is refreshing.”
Rev Willoughby is married to Amanda, a midwife and nurse, and the couple have three grown-up children.
While there has been a decline in parishioners over the past few years, Rev Willoughby sees this as a challenge to help people to be optimistic. “You know the phrase ‘spirituality is caught and not taught’, I suppose my hope, my wish, my prayer, is that people might see who I am, hear what I say and sense that there is a huge amount of joy to be gained from their faith.”
The son of Bishop Noel Willoughby, Paul was born into a rectory in Co Wicklow. However, the rector says that his was a slow and steady calling rather than a bright flash. “If you’re a child growing up in a rectory, you spend your life with people asking you ‘when are you going to get ordained?’ My dad was always very supportive but in a quiet way, just through his presence. He didn’t want to push me or influence me in any way.”
Paul studied Economics at Trinity College Dublin before transitioning into Theology. He was ordained in 1986.
“You do question your calling, asking yourself if it’s real, so I did spend a lot of time, wondering, thinking, and reflecting on this. I think my dad’s influence and the other clergy around me growing up had a lot to do with it, they were a very positive influence. To this day, I light four candles every Sunday for these clergy men.”
His first curacy was in Glenageary Parish in Dublin, as well as in the parishes associated with St Patrick’s Cathedral, before becoming rector of Booterstown, also in Dublin. He’s been a rector in West Cork for the past 24 years. In 2000, he was appointed a Canon in both St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork and in St Fachtna’s Cathedral, Rosscarbery.
As the rector of a very rural Union of Parishes, one of of Rev Willoughby’s key phrases is ‘Don’t live in isolation, everything is connected’. “We may feel alone but we’re part of a much bigger community,” he says passionately.
“People have great neighbours and that’s got nothing to do with their religious denomination.”
The story ‘On the Road to Emmaus’ in St Luke’s gospel is one that Rev Willoughby is particularly fond of. “The disciples were walking back to Emmaus after the Crucifixion of Jesus. They’re very despondent but then they’re joined by a stranger on the road. This stranger explains the necessity of the Messiah’s suffering and then they go to an inn and he breaks bread with them, where they recognise him as Jesus just before he vanishes.
“For us here in the parish, Holy Communion, the Eucharist, the breaking of bread is central to everything we do and the way we do it.
“I’m always saying to my parishioners that Sunday, not Monday, is the first day in the week. You come here and are sent out refreshed and energised to face what lies ahead.
“It’s everybody together, young and old, rich and poor, the Body of Christ.”
When he’s not busy working or visiting his parishioners, Rev Willoughby is an avid reader of history, in particular relating to WWI. “Amanda and I are just back from a trip to Ypres. Both our great uncles died in WWI and are buried there.
“There’s a WWI memorial plaque here in the church with five names on it. For years, the assumption was that there were five people from this parish who died fighting in WWI. However, after doing some research, I started counting and realised there was actually 90 dead from my parish. There might be only five Church of Ireland, but there are another 85, who for all sorts of reasons, have been forgotten.”
And when he doesn’t have his nose in a history book, the rector might be seen sporting Munster colours. “Although born in Leinster, I’m a passionate supporter of Munster rugby, much to the annoyance of my brother,” he says laughing.
While Amanda may not share his passion for rugby, both have recently started doing the Park Run in Glengarriff together, a Saturday morning community activity that they very much enjoy.