Flags of our Fathers

By Neil Sayer, Archdiocesan archivist

The archives have turned up another contender in the popular priest stakes. This month's entry is Father Thomas Bede McEvoy, whose parishioners took the time to decorate whole tenement blocks and streets in post-war Liverpool in his honour.
 
We have discovered a photograph album recording the festivities that took place to celebrate Father McEvoy's golden jubilee as a priest at St Augustine's on Great Howard Street just north of the city centre. Described in the early 20th century as "one of the most Irish parishes in Liverpool", St Augustine's was served for most of its existence by priests of the Benedictine Order. Fr McEvoy was ordained into that order in France in 1899, and having returned to his native city in 1909 to serve at St Augustine's, in 1949 he celebrated his 50-year anniversary in the same year that his church was celebrating its centenary.
 
He must have known what to expect. Even for his silver jubilee in 1924, his flock had pulled out all the stops despite his best efforts to play down the anniversary. When he had returned from a quiet retreat, it was to discover the streets bedecked with bunting and a motorised cavalcade at his disposal to tour his parish.
 
So, come 1949, the locals were not about to allow continued rationing and post-war austerity to interfere with their efforts to honour their long-serving parish priest. The album of black and white photographs which was presumably presented to Fr McEvoy and now survives among the archdiocesan archives shows how the streets in the area had been festooned with fairy lights and flags. The Union Jack, the Irish tricolour, even some Stars and Stripes that may have been recycled from VE Day hung from windows and street wires, and proud householders had decorated their front doors with tributes to their modest spiritual guide. Even the streetlights and drinking fountains were lovingly garlanded.
 
Fr McEvoy remained at St Augustine's until his death in 1958 at the age of 86. By then slum clearances and population resettlement had already begun to denude his parish. The photographs in his album, superb in their black and white clarity, provide us with an incidental but valuable record of the buildings and community that have long since vanished.