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Camping at the Phoenix Park and sitting in the Popemobile: Memories of John Paul II's visit

One family was allowed to skip the queue in the Phoenix Park because their car was full of Pope-related items.

AHEAD OF POPE Francis’ visit to Ireland later this month many people have been reminiscing about the last time a Pope visited Ireland.

John Paul II visited Ireland from Saturday 29 September to Monday 1 October 1979 – the first time a pontiff had been here. About 1.25 million people attended Mass in Dublin’s Phoenix Park on 29 September.

John Paul II visited more parts of the country than Francis plans to – with over 2.5 million people attending events in Dublin, Drogheda, Clonmacnoise, Galway, Knock, Limerick and Maynooth.

Homes all over the country displayed, or still display, ornaments or images marking the historic visit.

IMG_20180730_005127 A commemorative plate in Mary Lambe's kitchen in Coolock, Dublin. Source: Martin Lambe

A number of readers have been in touch with us, recalling their own memories, or those of their relatives, of the 1979 visit.

Camping outside the Phoenix Park 

Emer Desay’s mother wasn’t taking any chances to make sure she got into the Phoenix Park bright and early on the day of the Papal Mass – sleeping outside the gates the night before.

“After camping outside the Phoenix Park gates overnight she brought in her sleeping bag and set up camp for his arrival,” Emer told us.

Her mother also took photos of the crowds of people waiting to board a train to the Mass. Her bus ticket is also pictured below.

image3 Source: Emer Desay

image1 Source: Emer Desay

image2 Source: Emer Desay

Skipping the queue 

Peter Hegarty said he and his family got to skip the queue in the car parking line at the Phoenix Park because their car was full of Pope-related items.

Peter won 250,000 stickers from the company he worked for, which he in turn sold to a friend.

“The friend who bought them thought it a money-making idea to sell them at a £1 each,” he recalled. This idea didn’t pan out and the stickers ended up “lying in a warehouse”.

Instead, Peter’s family handed out some of the stickers as mementos of the visit. He was 34 at the time and attended the Mass with his wife Patricia and two children, Caron and Paul.

“My family took a few thousand and gave them out at the [Phoenix] Park,” Peter said.

“I chanced my arm and drove with the family to the entrance of the park.

“Because we had paraphernalia relating to the Pope in the car, my family and I were allowed skip the car parking line and drive into the Phoenix Park right up to the dignitaries’ car park and get a classic view of the whole affair,” he said.

IMG_1012 Source: Peter Hegarty

Sitting in the Popemobile 

Michael Murphy sent us this great shot of his mother, grandmother and uncle sitting inside the Popemobile.

“My uncle was a Leyland truck dealer at the time and Leyland supplied the Pope’s transport,” Michael explained.

Popemobile Source: Michael Murphy

Anne Marie Nally saw John Paul II in Galway. She was 18 at the time and went with her parents and siblings.

“I remember people being very patient and happy. I remember the Pope passing near us in his popemobile,” she recalled.

It was a youth Mass and Anne Marie said she particularly remembers singing two hymns with the lyrics: ‘He said freely, freely, you shall receive’ and ‘How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, good news’.

“When I went back to college a couple of days later after the summer break I learned that many of my fellow students also had seen the Pope.

“I do remember the country coming to a standstill for three days while he visited. It was lovely,” she said.

ticket A ticket from the Mass in Galway Source: Tony Whelan

Tony Whelan was at the same Mass and had “an unscheduled meeting with the Pope”.

To this day I’m still often referred to as the ‘guy who met the Pope’ and with the upcoming visit am constantly being reminded again and get a slagging, ‘I suppose you’ll be off to see the Pope again!’

“As of now I’m not going this time but that may change,” Tony said.

Following in his father’s footsteps 

Dave Rooney’s father Noel was a driver with Irish Rail when John Paul II visited. Sadly Noel passed away two years ago but Dave and his mother recently found the original train timetables and instructions for the visit.

Dave also works in public transport and will be involved in Pope Francis’ visit.

“Like my Dad I work in public transport and will be involved in this year’s visit. It’s great to be able to look back at these documents,” he said.

20180705_183343 Source: Dave Rooney

20180705_183325 Source: Dave Rooney

Singing at Ballybrit 

Michael McLoughlin sang with the youth choir at the Mass at Ballybrit Racecourse, Galway.

“I got to sing a solo along with a soprano, Anna Caleb. That’s us in the photo on the day. I was 22 years old at the time.

“The second photo is my security pass. Because I was in the choir I was beside the main altar for the entire ceremony,” he recalled.

Sept 1979_! Source: Michael McLoughlin

Sept 1979_2 Source: Michael McLoughlin

Margaret Flanagan was just three weeks old with John Paul II visited.

Her family has the below souvenir to mark the occasion – it notes that John Paul’s visit was during the centenary year of the apparition at Knock shrine in Co Mayo.

20180729_221631_resized Source: Margaret Flanagan

‘Young people of Ireland, I love you’

Maeve Kerrigan recalls seeing the pope in Galway as a teenager, and her parents and sibling saw him in Dublin.

Her father Hugh O’Connor (84) was a stewart at the Papal Mass at the Phoenix Park.

“The call for stewarts to assist at the Papal Mass was announced at local masses in Palmerstown church … Dad signed up straight away,” Maeve said.

“On the day itself he and the rest of the Palmerstown contingent of volunteers set out at the crack of dawn, approximately 4am, to walk from Palmerstown to the Ashtown Gate entrance to the park (it took them just under two hours).

“He was supplied with a cap and sash in the Papal colours of white and yellow, and a lunch box and drink.

“Dad remembers that when people started to arrive that everyone was in great spirits and particularly remembers all the different styles of deck chairs and foldable chairs of all kinds.”

Maeve said that her father had “a closer view than most” as the Popemobile passed by.

He recalls that the Popemobile moved slowly enough around each corral, with the Pope blessing people as he passed, and an amazing sense of the power and larger than life aspect of the man himself.

Maeve said her mother and four of her siblings also attended the Mass.

She was 15 at the time and, as she was due to go to Galway to see the Pope the following day with a local youth club, stayed at home to mind her two youngest siblings, who were aged four and five.

Because of our location in Mill Lane in the Liffey Valley and, as the crow flies, the Phoenix Park is not that far away, we did hear quite a bit of day travel across to us, particularly with the arrival of the pope in the helicopter.

“In fact we actually saw that fly over, and heard the cheers that accompanied that arrival. My sister who was only four at the time remembers those cheers distinctly.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

“Although not part of the youth club in Palmerstown I travelled the next day to Galway. I didn’t know anybody and my recollection of the train journey down was of teenagers being teenagers, and not really being there for anything other than getting to hang out with friends.

However, I was proved wrong in some of ways when it came to the event itself and when the Pope uttered the immortal ‘Young people of Ireland, I love you’ there was a real sense of feeling special in that moment.

Maeve sent us photos of one of the earthenware bowls used to distribute communion to the congregation at the Phoenix Park.

“It was passed on to my family after the event by a deacon who was one of the
many on the day who took part in the celebration of the Mass,” she told us.

IMG_7989 Source: Maeve Kerrigan

IMG_7987 Source: Maeve Kerrigan

Bridie Farrell sent us a photo of a label used to indicate the assigned area for people from Kilmore diocese during the Pope’s visit to Drogheda.

20180731_073452 Source: Bridie Farrell

A photo sent to us by reader Karen Murtagh shows the front page of the Evening Press on 1 October 1979.

Its main headlines states, ‘Don’t Allow Divorce – Pope’ – referencing a comment made by John Paul II to an estimated crowd of 400,000 people in Limerick. The newspaper also mentions his comments on abortion – something he called “an abominable crime”.

20180721_143017 Source: Karen Murtagh

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Órla Ryan

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