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‘Grey’ ash makes penitents smart

14 March 2014


Safely done: a pupil at Knayton C of E Primary School marks the Archbishop of York's forehead, during collective worship for Ash Wednesday, last week

Safely done: a pupil at Knayton C of E Primary School marks the Archbishop of York's forehead, during collective worship for Ash Wednes...

ASHING had to be abandoned in a number of Irish Roman Catholic churches at masses in Cork and Galway, after several parishioners complained of a burning sensation on their foreheads. Adverse skin reactions occurred after the imposition of ashes during masses to mark the start of Lent.

The sources of the ashes varied, but tests carried out by the Health Safety Executive (HSE) public analysis laboratory in Galway identified "home-prepared" ashes as being responsible.

Mgr Malachy Hallinan, a parish priest in Galway, where the ritual had to be stopped after the reaction among parishioners, said that it was the first time he hadseen this reaction in 48 years of ministry.

He had burned last year's palms to create the ashes. "At the 10-a.m. mass, we began to give out the ashes. Then, at about 10.30 a.m., word came back that people were suffering a little burning in the forehead," he said. "About ten minutes later, a man came and the skin had broken; so I immediately took all the ashes in from the church."

A spokesman for HSE West said that a caustic property in the home-made ashes could cause burning of the skin, and urged parishes to use black ashes for religious ceremonies, which should not result in a caustic mixture.

"Ashes can be caustic if the palms used have been burned too intensely," he said. "This is indica-ted by the colour of the ashbeing grey rather than dark or black."

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