The Sash: Lisnaskea priest pranks parishioners at Mass

Media caption,
County Fermanagh priest's musical 'mishap' was staged to cheer up parishioners.

Let's face it, there hasn't been very much to laugh about recently.

But a Catholic priest in County Fermanagh has done his bit with a prank on his unsuspecting parishioners.

As he gave the final blessing on Sunday, Canon Jimmy McPhillips cued up his smart phone and blasted out a few bars of The Sash.

The song refers to the collarettes worn by the Orange Order and celebrates historical Protestant victories in Ireland including the Battle of the Boyne.

"Sorry, that was the wrong one," Canon McPhillips mumbled into the microphone after he had played a bit of the song.

"Sorry about that - a bit early for that isn't it?" he adds, before switching the track to Footprints in the Sand by Leona Lewis and quickly leaving the altar.

'Lift people's spirits'

The Mass took place last Sunday in Holy Cross church in Lisnaskea, County Fermanagh.

The service was streamed online due to coronavirus restrictions, and clips were quickly shared on social media.

But all was not as it seemed - in fact the musical mishap was actually staged by Canon McPhillips in a bid to raise few laughs during these troubled times.

Image source, Google Maps
Image caption,
The Mass took place last Sunday in Holy Cross church in Lisnaskea

He told BBC News NI he was just trying to "lift people's spirits" and give them a laugh, because so many people were struggling with depression and mental health issues at the moment.

His approach to Mass is a little unusual, but the parish priest was ordained 28 years ago and said he has always done his own thing.

Although the gag was planned, the reaction to it was certainly not - and Canon McPhillips says he has been "shocked" by the attention it has received.

He said it was just intended as a joke for his local parishioners but it went "off the Richter scale".

Services have moved online

His nephew, Garbhan McPhillips, says he is well known for trying to cheer up his parishioners by telling jokes during church services.

"He always tries to bring a bit of happiness and a bit of life to his Masses and sermons," Garbhan told the BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme.

"And as things have progressed throughout this pandemic his services have moved online - he tries to make things a wee bit brighter for people out there tuning in.

"At the end of his Mass he would give a run down of his week, tells a few stories and jokes."

'Fair play to him'

Social media viewers who just saw the isolated clip may not have realised the final blessing was preceded by a short comedy routine, in which Canon McPhillips told gags about Donald Trump and Boris Johnson.

Those who got in touch to praise his choice of walk-off music included several Orange lodges.

"There was a lodge in London, I think, was one of the ones got in contact and said how fantastic it was and fair play to him," Garbhan said.

"He set out to bring a bit of happiness to people during this time and it's worked."

So will there be an encore this Sunday?

"I really can't see him topping this to be honest," Garbhan says.