Peggy O`Neill

By Paul Swift

Search County Kerry



The Southern Cyprus town of Paphos has a population of 45,000. The majority of the inhabitants are members of the Greek Orthodox Church; however there is a healthy 650 strong Catholic community.

Forty years ago, there were only five Catholics in Paphos and one of them was Margaret (Mary) O’Neill who helped establish the current church and parish.

The Southern Cyprus town of Paphos has a population of 45,000. The majority of the inhabitants are members of the Greek Orthodox Church; however there is a healthy 650 strong Catholic community. 

Forty years ago, there were only five Catholics in Paphos and one of them was Margaret (Mary) O’Neill who helped establish the current church and parish. 

Peggy, as she was commonly known, was born in Sneem in 1921. She was one of nine children. Like many others at the time, Peggy had to leave her native Kerry to seek employment and initially headed to London. She was an elegant, tall straight-back woman, with a ferocious temper if raised. 

Towards the end of the 1930’s Peggy met and married her Cypriot-born husband, Michael. Twenty years later and they were still in London running an antiques business on the Fulham Road. In the early 1970’s, Peggy and Michael moved to his home town, Paphos, in south west Cyprus. 

IN 1971 she opened the Miranda Cafe and over the next quarter of a century Peggy became the grand dame of the ex-pat community. Her cafe offered proper pots of tea in a time when not even the few hotels then in existence could offer a drinkable brew. Peggy’s cafe thrived for 25 years.

Peggy’s husband Michael died just one year after they moved back to Cyprus. It would have been easy for Peggy to pack up and head back to these shores, but her Catholic faith helped her through those dark days and it was then that she set about establishing a Catholic church in Paphos. 

In 1972, a year after Peggy set up her little cafe, the United Nations sent 300 Austrian troops to Paphos. An Austrian priest celebrated Mass, often in the open air, however when the soldiers left in 1974 the celebration of Sunday Mass stopped. 

In 1978, a Father Crosby, who was the chaplain to the various British bases on the island, began to celebrate Mass once a month in a tiny chapel (St. Anthony’s) in Paphos. 

The Franciscan order had an active community in Limassol and from time to time they would travel to assist Father Crosby. By 1980, the resident catholic population of Paphos had now reached 300, however the church of st. Anthony was too small, often resulting in the congregation — which was made larger by tourists — having to endure the midday heat as they stood outside the church for mass. Despite this Peggy was always present. 

In 1985 the Annabelle Hotel appointed Michael Francos as its manager. Michael was a catholic and immediately offered accommodation in the hotel for Sunday Mass. This offer was accepted. However, the numbers attending continued to increase and a larger venue was now needed. 

This resulted in Ft Mark Hurst contacting the Greek Orthodox Bishop of Paphos. The Bishop was most helpful and toured Paphos with the priest showing him all the orthodox churches. 

One of them was St. Kyriaki, which was more or less derelict. The Bishop remarked, “You can’t use that — its knee deep in dirt and cobwebs.” Despite this, Father Mark asked if the Bishop would allow him use of the church and after paying a professional cleaning company to rectify the church, mass was celebrated at the church for the first time at Christmas 1986. A very proud Peggy O’Neill was among those who attended. 

The Church was built around 500 years ago on the site of a smaller church which was destroyed by an earthquake in 59AD. St. Paul and St. Barnabus visited Cyprus and converted the then Roman Governor, Sergius Paulus, to Christianity. 

Tradition has it that St. Paul was arrested for preaching Christianity in the area and was whipped 39 times at a pillar near the church. For this reason the church is often referred to as the church by St.Paul.


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