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
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."