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The fascinating history of Australia’s first Mass, and the priest who celebrated it

The first-ever Catholic Mass in Australia was celebrated by a wrongly convicted priest, Fr. James Dixon.

James Dixon seemed destined for an unremarkable life. Born in 1758 to a well-to-do family from County Wexford in Ireland, he was educated by a local parish priest and then trained at the seminaries in Salamanca and Louvain. When he returned to Ireland to take up his position as curate in Crossabeg, Co. Wexford, he could hardly have expected what the future would hold.

The year 1798 would change his world forever.

At the end of the 18th century, Ireland was seething under British rule. In 1798, a rebellion erupted in and around Dublin. Inspired by the American and French revolutions, Catholics and Protestants banded together to oppose the tyranny of British rule in Ireland. They called themselves the United Irishmen and declared an all-out war on the British.

One of the battles, the Battle of Tubberneering, happened in Wexford near Fr, Dixon’s village. The United Irishmen rebels were defeated and the priest arrested. Fr, Dixon was accused of fighting in the battle. The evidence was flimsy and according to his local bishop, Dixon was probably mistaken for his brother Nicholas who played an active role in the 1798 Rebellion.

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