It is now 50 years since a well-respected priest first set foot in Barrow, as a refugee.

Father Emmanuel Joseph Gribben, the parish priest for St Mary’s Catholic Church on Duke Street, came across the Irish Sea to escape the violence in his native Belfast in April 1970.

He was just 12 years old when his father, Paddy, made the decision to move his family, which also included his wife Sadie, Emmanuel’s big brother Patrick and little sisters Marie and Angela, to safety after Catholic homes just a few hundred metres from where they lived had been burned down the previous summer.

Their first address was on Pottery Street, opposite Sacred Heart Church.

The young Emmanuel was a religious boy who was in the Junior Legion of Mary and went to Mass frequently throughout every week.

Their rented house contained a piano, which Emmanuel took a great interest in and he took lessons off Aileen Welsh, who was the organist for the Sacred Heart parish.

He also excelled at music at Barrow Grammar School, where he was a popular student.

He went on to earn a degree in music, but his faith led him to going down a career path.

After studying at Ushaw College in County Durham, ‘Father Manny’ was ordained as a priest in the summer of 1984 and was assigned to various parishes around the Diocese of Lancaster, including Cleator Moor and Blackpool.

After an absence of 37 years, he returned to Barrow in 2013 when he became parish priest of the older Catholic church in the town, one of four, compared to six when he first arrived.

He was one of just two Catholic priests, which meant covering two Saturday night Masses, in two churches, four Sunday morning Masses in four different churches then two more Sunday evening Masses.

This involved driving round Barrow from Duke Street to Salthouse, and Newbarns to Walney. This was to say nothing of visits to the town’s four Catholic schools and the daily weekday Masses.

During the coronavirus pandemic, he was forced to close his churches, but he continued to serve his parishioners’ needs by transmitting Masses and other devotional services online, not to mention social events like piano recitals and quizzes.