Priest cleared of abuse applauded 17 times in church
Almost 1,000 worshippers burst into applause 17 times as they welcomed a parish priest back to their church after he was cleared of child sex abuse.
Nearly four years to the day after false assault allegations were made against him, Father Eugene Boland looked nervous as he returned to his flock in Killyclogher near Omagh on Saturday.
Around 900 people crammed into St Mary's Chapel and hundreds more in the parish hall next door to welcome back the 67-year-old cleric.
Fr Boland was returning to the ministry 18 months after being found not guilty by a jury on five charges of indecent assault, "inappropriate touching" of a girl, then aged 15, in Londonderry more than 20 years ago.
The priest, originally from Moville in Co Donegal, was only cleared by the Vatican a few days ago to return to public life.
Nine priests, including his brother Fr Declan Boland, were in the chapel to see the return.
His twin sister Aine, a retired Dublin schoolteacher, and another brother, Enda, sat beside each other at the front.
Fr Boland waved at cameras mounted overlooking the church.
Another sister Mary was watching live via webcam from Canada.
A smiling Fr Eugene told Mass-goers: "Tonight I can truly say what a joy, what a privilege it is for me to be back in my parish church, my dream has been fulfiled."
As he spoke applause rang out and there were cheers in the balconies.
"The journey over the past three-and-a-half years has been a long and painful one, but I do not look back with any sorrow or regret, rather I look forward with great hope and confidence because I am back where I belong, with you the beloved people of Cappagh parish," he said.
"What I have missed most was not being able to celebrate Holy Mass or administer the sacraments.
"My priestly ministry has been on hold since 2010.
"Tonight is like a new dawn, a new beginning; it's like a day of Resurrection."
"Eugene is a great brother and a great priest. I'm so delighted to see him back doing what he does best, helping people."
Fr Eugene's twin sister Aine