Pope fans recall 1979 Ireland visit of John Paul II
It has been almost 40 years since the last Papal visit in Ireland, when Pope John Paul II toured for three days drawing in crowds of millions.
During his trip to Ireland in 1979, the Pope visited Dublin, Drogheda, Galway, Knock and Maynooth.
An estimated 2.7 million people went to see him, with many travelling for hours to catch a glimpse of the pope.
Martin Lynch and his wife Paula were among the 1.25 million people who attended Mass in Phoenix Park. Martin, a father-of-four from Roscommon, recalled his memories from that day.
“Everything was a highlight – I was right beside where the pope landed in the helicopter and I also spoke to the pilot,” he said.
“Paula’s dad had an accident two weeks before and rather than hold on to him for observation, they let him go from the hospital so they would have spaces available for any casualties from the Pope visit. “They cleared every hospital that wasn’t an emergency.”
Martin was a steward and Eucharistic minister at the Mass, while his wife Paula helped out at the Red Cross.
He continued: “He was a tall, dignified man and to me he didn’t trade on his fame or respect, he was a simple priest. “It was lovely to be so close to him. Everything was much more informal and easy-going compared to what this time will be. I remember him going down Westmoreland Street and he took over the city in a way that nobody has since John F Kennedy’s visit. To me, it wasn’t particularly religious occasion, it was more spectacular, it was joyful.”
Martin will be among those who will be in Dublin on Saturday and Sunday to see Pope Francis. He is also part of a team helping at the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) this week.
He added: “It’s not all grey-heads who will be going this time, the amount of young families attending has surprised me.
“I have a lifelong faith and if it was another pope I might not want to see him, but Pope Francis particularly catches my imagination and convictions because of his love for the poor. He’s a very different man to John Paul II and is a man that’s needed for this time. If people only listened to him we would have a lot happier world.”
Maria Robinson, from Wexford, travelled to Galway for the youth Mass when she was 17-years-old.
“My mother organised a ticket for me and my cousin and the two of us headed off to Galway early in the morning,” she said.”We travelled in a mini-bus cross-country from Wexford to Galway which wasn’t easy. I remember the bus driver telling us we had to hurry back after as he had to be back in Wexford to bring the women to bingo, so there was no hanging around.
“The day itself was gloomy and raining. We waited for hours for him to arrive. There was lots of singing and waving arms. It was a great experience. When I was growing up it was all about the Catholic Church and the pope was almost God-like, but you never saw him and when we heard he was coming to Ireland it was a huge thing back then. To be able to see him it was very exciting for everyone.
“No one came to Ireland back then, there were no pop bands coming and you never got to go anywhere. I had never been outside of Ireland at that stage.”
Like many people, Maria kept a number of items from that historic day, including the ticket and stool.
Maria, who works in finance, will also be working at the RDS congress before going to Phoenix Park for the Papal Mass on Sunday.
She added: “I think the Catholic Church and the country really need to see that Pope Francis is moving forward. The wheels have changed and the wheels are turning slowly and I think everyone will have a really positive reaction to him.”
Mary Gauci, originally from Dublin, now lives in Melbourne, Australia, recalled her memories of the 1979 visit.
“I’m originally from Ballyfermot which is quite close to the Phoenix Park and was living there in the family home at the time the pope came, I was 19,” she said.
“I walked down to the park with my dad and my younger sister. It was pitch black outside but the roads were alive with hundreds and hundreds of people all heading to the same place. Everyone was very quiet nobody messing around or laughing. Just talking in hushed voices. I can still remember the feeling of being a part of something so special that I wouldn’t ever see again. We brought food with us, just sandwiches and cake and some water and a flask of tea. We were put into sectioned areas and waited for hours for the pope to arrive. I think we all sang songs and hymns while we waited.
“The lines for the Portaloos were hours long as they didn’t realise so many people would turn up. I remember how excited everyone was when we heard the papal helicopter finally arriving. We were all cheering and waving so much.”
Noelle Lee, originally from Rathmines and now living in America, said that meeting the pope was “so very exciting”.
“He came past in the Popemobile and lifted my daughter out of my arms and put his hand on her head,” she said. It was such a good omen and blessing to me.
“My daughter is now 40 and I believe very blessed.”
Photo: Maria Robinson from Wexford with her ticket to the see Pope John Paul II in Galway in 1979.Tags: 1979, Catholic Church, Drogheda, dublin, Galway, Ireland, knock, Maynooth, papal visit, Phoenix Park, Pope John Paul II