Grenagh Church and Sports Complex were both packed to capacity last Saturday night as the parish bid farewell to their Parish Priest for the last 12 years, Fr. Liam Kelleher. Led by Chairman Vincent Buckley, the parishioners of Grenagh gave Fr. Kelleher a rousing send off as he left on a year’s sabbatical to Berkeley University, California.

Fr. Kelleher is one of the country’s best known clerics and has been a campaigning community activist for many years and has a long connection with most sports, but is best known in the fields of athletics, camogie and ladies football.

A native of Donoughmore, Fr. Kelleher was born in 1944 and educated at the local school and St. Colman’s College Fermoy. He entered St. Patrick’s College, Carlow to study for the priesthood in 1962 and was ordained by Bishop John Ahern at St. Lachteen’s Church, Donoughmore on June 9th 1968.

Following ordination he ministered in Pontypridd, Wales from 1968 to 1970 before returning to Ireland as chaplain to Presentation College, Midleton. It was during his seven years at the college where he also taught religion, that he cultivated a love of and became involved in athletics by joining Midleton A.C. It was the start of a life dedicated to the sport and during which he rubbed shoulders with some of the greats of track and field. During his time in the east Cork town, he got involved in Midleton Community Centre and became first Secretary of Cork Community in 1972.

In 1977, Fr. Kelleher was transferred to Tullylease and here his innovative instincts catapulted him into the athletics spotlight. He was one of the driving forces behind the purchase of lands which were developed into a full size all weather track designed by the late Fanahan McSweeney. The new facility was a magnet for some of the best in the athletics world with such notables as John Walker, Eamonn Coughlan, Frank O’Meara, Ray Flynn, John Treacy and Liam O’Brien all competing there.

In 1982, the Donoughmore native was moved to the parish of Dromina where he organised the Dromina 10k road race and also during his time there, he was instrumental in introducing camogie to St. Mary’s in Charleville. During his time in the parish he spearheaded a fund-raising campaign for a new school and grotto before moving to Inch, Killeagh in 1988. While there, he rejoined Midleton A.C. which was soon to amalgamate with East Cork A.C. to become Glenbower A.C.

Fr. Kelleher was transferred to Whitechurch in 1994 and he was to remain until 1999 and where he introduced ladies football into the local National School. In 1998, he got involved with Cork Ladies Football Board as its P.R.O and was manager of the Cork Ladies Under 14 team in 1998 and 1999.

In 1999 he was appointed as Parish Priest of Grenagh where he has ministered until his departure this week. In a glittering career in athletics, Fr. Kelleher has attended most Olympic Games, has managed the Irish teams in the Europa Cup and has been National P.R.O of BLE.

Last September, Fr. Kelleher was the recipient of the coveted Irish School Tailteann Merit Award having previously been recognised with the Irish Runner Seiko Award in 1990 and the Person of the Year in Charleville in 1988.

Fr, Kelleher will be missed over the next twelve months but he goes with the good wishes of the parishioners of Grenagh and his previous parishes and the many friends that have come to admire his work in the promotion of sports and a healthy life style.