The couple will opt for jail rather than pay a €300 fine for traveling 70km to the fair during lockdown

A Catholic couple say they will go to jail instead of paying a €300 fine for traveling 70km to attend mass during lockdown.

Retired firefighter Jim Ryan, 64, and his wife Ann, 59, a retired nurse, found themselves together for the first time earlier this month on a subpoena for violating the 5-kilometer limit on Palm Sunday, March 28, 2021 , in court.

The couple were convicted of the offense by Judge Raymond Finnegan of Cavan Circuit Court but immediately appealed – and have now vowed to go to jail if it’s not possible to overturn it.

“I’m going to jail before I pay it. I’d rather go to jail without a shadow of a doubt,” Jim told the Sunday World this week.

“I have no intention of paying them a fine for going to mass for what I’ve been doing all my life.”

Jim and Ann have become an unlikely figurehead fighting for freedom of religion in the Republic of Ireland.

They live in a comfortable stone house on the edge of a railway line in Donamon, Roscommon and describe themselves as “average Joes”.

“We’re 64 and 59 years old,” Ann said, “have never had a criminal record, are quiet people and don’t belong to any organization.

“We’re just two very average, ordinary people who have worked hard all our lives.

“I worked as a nurse and Jim worked in the fire department.

“We raised a nice family.

“We’re not out there yelling with placards or anything like that, and we haven’t been to golf dinners either.

“We’re just ordinary Joe Soaps – but with one difference, we honor God and we believe in God.”

The first year of the pandemic has been difficult for the couple, who say being a practicing Catholic requires regular attendance at Mass, particularly on Sundays.

“One time we went to a church near here and actually got kicked out,” Jim said.

“The priest filmed a mass to put on Facebook and when we saw it was going we went inside.

“But the priest came down to me and said we had to get out of the church.

“I left the church for the sake of peace, but that was the state we were in.”

In March 2021, a dispute was brewing in Mullahoran Co. Cavan, 70km away, in which Fr. PJ Hughes refused to comply with the Level 5 restriction which closed houses of worship.

“I will exercise my constitutional right, despite people’s complaints, even though I disobey my bishop when I go against his counsel,” Fr. Hughes said as he announced he would continue to celebrate Mass.

This announcement, which came ahead of Easter week, drew media attention.

And on Palm Sunday, a number of Garda checkpoints were set up on the roads leading to the church.

“We read online that Fr. Hughes was preaching Mass at Mullahoran Church and that he would not turn anyone away,” Jim recalled.

“This was Psalm Sunday…the day Jesus rode into Nazareth on a donkey, knowing that he would face horrible torture and death, and going on for our sins.

“Going to Mass that Sunday was extremely important to us.

“Ann had just had a life-saving medical procedure and we wanted to thank God.”

When asked why he thought it was okay to violate the restriction, Jim said he believed the restriction was unlawful.

“Article 44 of the Constitution states that we have the right to practice our religion in public,” he said.

“Article 15 also states that the Dáil cannot make any law contrary to the Constitution – and this law has done so.”

When asked about her reason – when so many others were following the travel restriction – why she flouted it, Ann says it’s a fair question.

“That morning I decided that I would honor one of the 10 commandments,” she replies, “which was to honor the Sabbath day.

“The bottom line is that God’s law was more important to me than man’s.

“The law of man is fallible. The law of God is not.”

As the couple approached the church that morning, they encountered two checkpoints.

They passed the first checkpoint before being stopped at the second checkpoint at 11.10am and spoke to Garda Barry Mulligan.

In his testimony in court, Jim claimed Gda Mulligan told him and his wife to “stay away” and that there was a “problem” at the church.

In his evidence, Gda Mulligan said he told the Ryans he was filing a fixed-fee criminal charge because they were 3 miles from their home.

Jim told the Sunday World that after speaking to Gda Mulligan, he first turned right onto a road, believing the church was on the left, but somehow ended up at the end of Our Lady of Lourdes.

“So we went in and got the mess,” he said.

“There were about 20 people inside and it was an absolutely beautiful fair and when we came out the guards were waiting for us.

“They had pulled up in the parking lot and were sitting across from us.

“They never said a word and did not go to the church where this great crime was committed.

“But they took all the registration numbers and, I would say later, they contacted the various checkpoints and gave them the list of cars.”

Jim’s testimony in Circuit Court saw Cavan launch an impassioned defense of his religion.

“Catholic lives matter,” he said.

Judge Finnegan responded that he agreed with the sentiment “with all my heart,” but it did not absolve the couple from the fact that they broke the law.

He fined them both €300 and gave them three months to pay.

“You’re not a judge,” Jim replied as he stepped off the witness stand.

“Jesus would be ashamed of you!”

Within hours of the fine being imposed, Jim and Ann filed their appeal with the court.

When asked what he hopes the Court of Appeals will do, Jim said, “My hope is that the judge will recognize the fact that the government has broken the Constitution and throw out this law.

“What I think will happen is we will be told whatever we say is irrelevant and the fine will stand.

“And if that happens, I won’t pay for it. I’d rather go to jail.

“But I can only speak for myself.”

Ann nods her head in agreement.

“If that happens, we’ll have to find a babysitter for the dog and our chickens. The couple will opt for jail rather than pay a €300 fine for traveling 70km to the fair during lockdown

Fry Electronics Team

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