The Sacred Harte

Mickey Harte is a competent guy. His accomplishments as the manager of three times all Ireland champions Tyrone are the stuff of legends. To be successful at that level in the sporting bear pit suggests an uncommon toughness. It was the type of steely resolve that would have stood by him when his car crashed into a field last week having flipped over, at one point being 20 feet off the ground. Fortunately, this footballing great lived to tell the tale. Another death from the particular sporting fraternity that makes up the legendary Tyrone squad following that of the late Cormac McAnallen would have been devastating for the county.

For a person who must apply acute logic to outwitting Tyrone’s adversaries on the field of play, it was strange to read his lack of reasoning as to why he survived the crash. His explanation - god was responsible for divinely intervening and saving his life.

I often say the Rosary when I am travelling alone and I had my Rosary ring on my finger and I had a relic of Padre Pio in my pocket and I prayed and I think that saved me. I just called to God and he heard.

I wondered how this might have worked; how god sometimes hears and at other times does not. I can never quite fathom the decision making processes at work in the mysterious mind of god. It has always puzzled me how god, presuming he has heard, decides to answer one prayer rather than another. Saints are at times supposed to intercede on behalf of supplicants; something like god’s PA filtering out any of the less worthy before their entreaties make their way up to the top. I still don’t know if god refuses any beseechment made prayerfully. Nor if, for those put at the bottom of the prayer tray for later consideration only to be overlooked, the blame can be conveniently laid at the door of the saints for not passing them on to begin with. The king is alright style of thing but he has these scheming advisors. Alternatively, god may have saints he listens to and saints he doesn’t. How those ignored might feel they are not allowed to say. No dissent up there in the world of he who wants praised 24/7.

This notion of a god that has to reason and make decisions as to who he might listen to, grant in part or maybe in full, suggests that out of everything god is supposed to have done in the six thousand years or so since he created the world - long after the dinosaurs were somehow on it, courtesy of a Satanic illusion - making man in his own image was not amongst them. Men made him in their image, even giving him a man’s face.

The saved-by-prayer angle ran as the major news story in the Irish News the day after the accident. If Mickey had claimed to have been saved by the god Thor or Beano the spinning jelly bean monster it is likely the paper would have spared him his blushes. But Catholicism being the belief system of choice among the bulk of readers, saints and deities interceding and intervening don’t invite the same amount of ridicule.

But look at it like this. When the philosopher Dan Dennett had a near death experience well wishers and friends told him after his recovery that they had been praying for him. He is reported to have replied ‘did you sacrifice a goat as well?’ Kind of puts things in a more sober perspective.

It strikes me that a god who is omnipotent must at the same time be immutable. As the theologians say he must be utterly unchangeable. And immutability precludes any notion of an interventionist god. An immutable god cannot be persuaded to change its mind. So if god was of a mind to let Mickey Harte go to his death then no amount of praying could possibly change it. Mickey may just as well have grabbed a goat from the field he crashed in, slit its throat and offered it up as a sacrifice.

Micky Harte’s god is benign and benevolent. But this is less than helpful when confronted with the irreconcilability between benevolence and callous indifference. That god might answer the prayer of Mickey Harte and ignore the pleas of two young children, Lewis and Taylor Goldsmith who died in a house fire in Surrey just a week before Mickey’s crash, suggests a moody inconsistent god. Even if they did not understand prayer surely an all knowing god would have interpreted their anguish while they smothered as a plea for assistance. God was asleep, the pleas fell on deaf ears, the all-merciful is one cruel dude indeed – or he is a Tyrone supporter.

Mickey Harte survived because the physical and empirically measurable combination of elements that would have taken his life simply did not click into place. The only reason, no other.


  1. A great piece here Tony.......Back in 84 I was been taken around ,by an ex prisoner "tea-pot"..(.my memory fails me on his I do remember he had only one ear as the other had been shot off by the brits),the Divis Flats...I was on a fact finding mission as a member of the Troops Out we were walking around on the upper tiers of Divis...he says two things that truely made me understand the nature of the larger struggle 1) as I saw a patrol of young Brits below Teapot turned to me and stated that he actually felt some sympathy towards the brits below as they were really only working class pawns being used by Thatcher and her cronies and that they rarely had any inkling or understanding of their role and 2)looking across the West Belfast landscape he asked if I knew who the true enemies of his people were ,the ones who kept his people from true freedom.....I was expecting.him to say the Brits or the Loyalists...instead he turned and pointed to a church steeple and enlightened me to the way religion has affected the people of Ireland...this piece of yours reminds me of that....thank you

  2. aricaiwdjts,

    Jimmy McMullan is the name but I thought he got out later than 84. Republicans long attacked the church for its role in defending establishment interests. The more Catholic element within republicans were not altogether happy with some of the criticisms made against the church.