Belfast Telegraph

Long-awaited trip north of the border would square the circle

Pope John Paul II visiting Drogheda in 1979
Pope John Paul II visiting Drogheda in 1979
Alf McCreary

By Alf McCreary

The visit of Pope John Paul II to Ireland in 1979 was the first Papal visit to the land of St Patrick, and it received wall to wall coverage.

The keynote location was his visit to Knock in Co Mayo to mark the centenary of a religious apparition.

I covered this part of the Pope's tour for the Belfast Telegraph, along with reporter Robin Morton and photographer Charlie Cockcroft.

There was great excitement from the very moment the Pope's aircraft touched down in Dublin, and he emerged down the steps to kiss the Irish soil, or more accurately the hard concrete of the runway.

While we waited at Knock, the excitement built up as the Papal motorcade was given rapturous receptions in the many places he visited along the way.

He arrived in Knock a couple of hours late because he had stayed too long at a Galway youth rally run by Bishop Eamonn Casey, who later spectacularly fell from grace after it emerged he had a son.

Unfortunately, the Knock visit by the Pope ended in an anti-climax.

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After a long Mass and address to many thousands outside the Knock Basilica, the Pope was scheduled to tour through the cheering crowds. Sadly, this was suddenly cancelled because of a storm coming in from the Atlantic with a low cloud base which was threatening his return to Dublin by helicopter.

Overall, however, the Irish visit was a triumph when some 2.5 million people came to see him in the Republic.

However, he was unable to come to Northern Ireland because of the security situation, and he was deeply disappointed personally.

This was confirmed to me by a former Papal Secretary in Rome on the eve of his funeral.

A visit north of the border next year would be therefore most welcome to square this historical, and painful, circle.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph