Trailblazer Eileen reflects on her service to the Church of Ireland

It’s 20 years since Rev Eileen Cremin took up a post in the Church of Ireland, writes MARY HASSETT. Here she reflects on her time in the church
Trailblazer Eileen reflects on her service to the Church of Ireland

Rev. Eileen Cremin celebrating her ordination as a Church of England priest in 1994.

FEW Douglas people had any inkling of the Rev. Eileen Cremin’s trail-blazing history when she took up a position as Curate Assistant in the local Church of Ireland Parish in 2001.

There were so few black people around Douglas that Eileen got used to being stared at. Little did anyone realise that she had made history by becoming the first ever British black woman to be ordained a Deacon in the Church of England in 1988.

“There was a lot of media coverage when I was ordained a Deacon. 

"When I was ordained a priest in 1994 I even had a French film crew follow me from my home in Hackney in East London to St Paul’s Cathedral”, said Eileen, who lives in Kildorrery, North Cork.

If Eileen had been a male Deacon it would have just taken a further year to be ordained a priest. It took six years and a change in Church of England legislation before Eileen could be ordained.

The first ordination of women in the Church of England took place in March, 1994, in Bristol. London ordained its first women priests on April 16/17, 1994, in St Paul’s Cathedral. Eileen was one of only two black women to be ordained over the two days.

Rev. Eileen Cremin.
Rev. Eileen Cremin.

When she moved to Douglas after ministering in the London Diocese, Eileen had great fun explaining to people how a black woman from London of Caribbean descent could have a name that was pure Cork.

It turns out that Eileen was named after an Irish friend of her Antiguan-born mother. Her surname changed from Lake to Cremin when she married her husband Tom, who grew up on Monastery Road near St Francis College in Rochestown.

“The people in the Douglas Union of Parishes were lovely. I still miss them even now,” Eileen admits.

She and Tom moved into the Rectory in Fermoy in 2006 when she was appointed Rector of one of the largest group of parishes in the county. Eileen was conscious of being one of the first black people in Fermoy but the town gradually became more multi-cultural.

“I had to get used to milking times and small town living,” laughs Eileen.

Meeting people and ministering to their spiritual needs brought her great fulfillment. Sadly, Eileen had to retire prematurely as Rector in 2018 due to ongoing back problems which leave her in a lot of pain.

Tom recently retired from his position as Head of the Emergency Shelter and Housing Services with Cork Simon Community.

Eileen is delighted that she and Tom will now have more time to spend together in their Kildorrery home. You can hear the smile in her voice every time she talks about her beloved husband. They met when Eileen was working as a Church of England Chaplain in the Hackney Hospital where she was born. At the time Tom was a Catholic priest who did chaplaincy work in the hospital, visiting patients with mental health difficulties. Tom subsequently left the priesthood and a relationship blossomed between the couple which led to their marriage in 1997.

Rev. Adrian Wilkinson, The Right Reverend Paul Colton, and Rev. Eileen Cremin at a confirmation ceremony in 2004. Picture; Larry CumminsEcho Marking
Rev. Adrian Wilkinson, The Right Reverend Paul Colton, and Rev. Eileen Cremin at a confirmation ceremony in 2004. Picture; Larry CumminsEcho Marking

Tom went on to work with the mental health charity Mind in Camden while Eileen was involved in Parish ministry in Kilburn.

Eileen and Tom always enjoyed their frequent trips to Ireland. In addition, Tom was anxious to spend more time with his mother following his father’s death. When Eileen successfully applied for the job of Curate Assistant in Douglas Parish, the time seemed right to make the move.

“When I came here I started to feel a great affinity with Irish people in terms of colonization

"I hadn’t realised that the British had come in and taken over in Ireland the same way they had done in Antigua and across the Caribbean. It makes it feel a bit awkward sometimes that I’m British,” Eileen acknowledges.

Although Eileen had a generally positive experience growing up in Hackney, once when she was aged eight a group of white children called her the N-word and set their dog on her.

“My Antiguan-born parents felt powerless when I told them about it. They had sort of resigned themselves to it, that this was what happens,” Eileen points out.

From a young age, she had wanted to be a doctor. Sadly, Eileen’s mother, Laurel, died when she was only 17. Eileen became the breadwinner in the house as her father, Basil, was in poor health.

“My vocation started from working with young people on a voluntary basis. I got confirmed when I was aged 20 as I wasn’t interested in doing so at 13. The idea of the vocation came gradually,” says Eileen. 

“I have come full circle really, from wanting to be a doctor to ending up as a priest caring for people in spiritual ways.”

My vocation started from working with young people on a voluntary basis. I got confirmed when I was aged 20 as I wasn’t interested in doing so at 13. The idea of the vocation came gradually.

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