Belfast Telegraph

Travellers camp ahead of Pope visit

Irish travellers hoping to be blessed by the Pope on his visit to the UK next month have set up camp in a historic beauty spot, a councillor said.

Around 16 families moved onto a field next to Sarehole Mill in Hall Green, Birmingham, on Tuesday, telling local councillor Martin Mullaney they were in the city to attend Pope Benedict XVI's open-air mass in Cofton Park on September 19.

The landscape, a childhood haunt of JRR Tolkien, is believed to have provided inspiration for the author's Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Cllr Mullaney said the travellers told him they had made their way from County Donegal and had no idea the service was ticketed. Pilgrim passes have been allocated to parish priests who will distribute them to parishioners at a cost of £25 each.

Cllr Mullaney said: "About 16 families moved onto one of our historic parks which has links to JRR Tolkien so I went along to see them. I asked them what they were doing in Birmingham and what they said to me was, 'We've come here to see the Pope because we want to get his blessing at the mass in Birmingham'. When I asked them if they had pilgrim passes, the response was, 'What passes?'

"Our fear now is that there is a huge community of Irish travellers on their way so we want to be proactive and make it clear that there are no spaces available. The pilgrim passes have all already been allocated to parish priests, and there will be no admission to the mass without a pass."

Cllr Mullaney, Birmingham City Council cabinet member for leisure, sport and culture, said council officials met with police and representatives of the Catholic Church today to work out how to deal with the situation. The travellers were told to leave the field off Wake Green Lane in Hall Green on Tuesday but simply relocated in a park across the road.

A seven-day eviction notice has now been served and the families are being encouraged to moved onto a disused car-park in the Moseley area of Birmingham.

Cllr Mullaney said the council was working on proposals to arrange temporary authorised sites where travellers would be permitted to stay for the duration of the Pope's visit, adding that Catholic priests were set to visit the travellers to reiterate the position on pilgrim passes.

A Birmingham City Council spokeswoman said: "Attendance at the mass in Cofton Park is by pilgrim pass only and these are being issued through the Roman Catholic Church by local parish priests. The arrival of pilgrims will be by coach only and timed according to an agreed programme to ensure ease of access and departure. Anybody without a pass will not be allowed inside the park."

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