Honouring the religious and cultural heritage of St Patrick is something that Father Gerard Daly has encouraged since first being ordained as a Catholic priest.
Father Gerard is the English-speaking minister at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Arroyo de la Miel, a position he secured in 2014.
For the past six years, he has been taking care of the English-speaking community on the Costa del Sol, offering a weekly mass in English, as well as organising numerous events that celebrate the Celtic culture. One of these is the International Celtic Festival (which last year coincided with St Patrick's Day), a gathering that attracted musicians and dancers from Ireland and from the local Irish community. Another is the Burn's Night Dinner held in honour of the Scottish Bard Robbie Burns.
Father Gerard also visits the sick and elderly in hospital and in their homes, as well as conducting baptisms, Holy Communion, weddings and funeral services.
"I came to Spain six years ago to serve the English-speaking community [in Arroyo], who, at the time, did not have a [Roman Catholic] priest. Since then I have seen my heartfelt desire blossom, namely the building of a community for all nationalities, colour and creed," Father Gerard explains to SUR in English.
Father Gerard grew up in Ireland, but moved to England in order to study for the priesthood. He attended several colleges before moving to a Vatican university in Oxfordshire, receiving degrees in Philosophy and Theology.
After ordination, he studied Psychology and has since devoted his time to family therapy work. He has also studied numerous languages, including Italian, while working at St Peter's Basilica in Rome.
Passion for music
A keen sportsman (football, canoeing, sailing and horse riding are among his favourites), Father Gerard also has a passion for music, learning to play the piano and guitar at an early age. He writes poetry and has had some of his work published, but today he is content to look after his large English-speaking flock in Benalmádena.
"I am very happy here in Benalmádena. I have many Spanish friends, as well as many of numerous nationalities. One of the great pleasures I have had here is to see the growth of a very happy and very friendly community," he says with sincerity.
"People of many faiths will come to pray. This is what St Patrick achieved fifteen hundred years ago and what the world still celebrates today. He was a man of great faith, courage and empathy who crossed many barriers," the popular clergyman declares.
Attracting young people
The Sunday mass attracts people from Granada to Gibraltar, but, as he points out, his congregation is made up largely of senior citizens. For the last few years, the dedicated priest has been researching why many faiths, both Christian and non-Christian, are losing contact with young people.
One way in which Father Gerard seems to be attracting young people is through music. After the success of the first International Celtic Festival held last year, he intends to make the event a regular feature on Benalmádena's cultural agenda in the years to come.
Father Gerard hopes that the Celtic cultural events will act as an educational journey to help youngsters to integrate and learn about the longstanding history of the Celts.
"I spent fruitful years working with the peace-making mission in Northern Ireland. This is why I wish to bring together young people from both sides in Northern Ireland to let music be the cement that binds them together. We have had many problems there and this has sometimes overshadowed our true identity: this is an opportunity to help them understand their own culture," Father Gerard concludes.