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Irishman avoids prison by making pilgrimage

By on Wednesday, 10 November 2010

A pilgrim ascends Croagh Patrick in Co Mayo (Photo: PA)

A pilgrim ascends Croagh Patrick in Co Mayo (Photo: PA)

An Irishman who was promised by a judge that he would be spared time in prison if he undertook a religious pilgrimage and said “a few prayers” has completed the task and raised about £2,500 for charity in the process.

Joseph McElwee had been convicted of drunken behavior and verbally abusing a police officer and faced a prison sentence. However, in March, Judge Seamus Hughes came up with a novel opportunity for McElwee to avoid prison time and ordered him to climb Ireland’s holiest mountain, Croagh Patrick in County Mayo.

Mr McElwee reported to the court this week and showed the judge photographs of himself and 13 friends on top of the roughly 2,500ft mountain where St Patrick fasted for 40 days in the fifth century.

At the time of his conviction, the judge said: “I want you to come back with evidence that you did the four stations of Croagh Patrick and say a few prayers. You then might have a different impression of County Mayo and its people.”

The police officer whom Mr McElwee insulted grew up near the mountain.

Mr McElwee told the judge he regretted what he had done and had managed to raise money for charity during the climb. The judge asked if he had found climbing the mountain therapeutic and Mr McElwee said he had.

“I hope that when you come out of a pub in the beautiful village of Rathmullan in future, you take in a deep breath of fresh air from nearby Lough Swilly and you will appreciate that gardai are there for your own protection,” the judge said.

Judge Hughes ordered half of the cash to be given to a local hospice and the other half donated to an adult mental health services programme. He asked Mr McElwee to write a note to be included with the donations explaining the circumstances.

While community service orders are common for less serious offences, it is believed to be the first time that an Irish judge has ordered someone to undertake a pilgrimage in lieu of a prison sentence. The judge’s initiative at keeping someone out of prison may prove popular with the cash-strapped Irish government, which is considering £5.1 billion in cuts to public spending.

  • Eric Conway

    Makes me proud to be Irish. An excellent/commonsense/rational/practical decision by a member of the judiciary. If thats superstitious, bring it on !.

  • aisake040188camaibau

    This is a solution to all convicted for violate constitutions, rules and regulation. if people are continue to be put in prison anger, hatred,jealousy will arises eventualy it will not mold anyone behaviour. peolpe will still try to be a winner and more convictions Cheers to the Irish Judges and Legislator

  • Highland Cathedral

    “program”. Oh dear!

  • Grandma67

    I always cringe when I hear “sentences” like this one being passed, such as a teenage boy being ordered to attend Sunday services for a year (actually happened here in the USA a while back). There is still the option to “pay your societal debt” in prison, but a secular court offering offering/legislating a religious activity as an alternative does not sit well with me.

  • Stephenmcelligott

    Thats brilliant…Praise be God.

  • Susanjorgensen

    A sanctifying penance . . . much more beneficial than a secular Penitentiary.

  • Gian Banchero

    Dear Grandma67, I too cringe when I hear of a secular court imposing actions as such, I'm totally opposed to mixing religion and state, but we must remember that the rest of the world isn't the US of A, what's politically correct here doesn't mean it holds water around the world. Ireland, even with its troubles in the Church, is still a Catholic country with Catholic sensibilities, though the actions of the judge wouldn't be acceptable here it makes perfect sense there… Now if Mr. McElwee was an non Catholic it would be a different story.

  • Cody

    I'm sure that this isn't the first time that an Irish judge has sent someone on a pilgrimage. However, perhaps the first judge of the modern Irish state.