The 31st International Eucharistic Congress was held in Dublin, in June 1932, an achievement of which our infant state might well be proud. It was a mere ten years since the turmoil of the Civil War and now with absolute precision and due pomp and ceremony, we hosted this immense (about a million people) gathering of dignitaries and pilgrims from all parts of the globe. We were also celebrating the 15th centenary of the coming of St. Patrick to Ireland.
At that period, there was no question of the Pope himself travelling abroad and Cardinal Lauri was appointed to Papal Legate. The difference between his coming and the coming of the Pope in 1979 was striking. Pope John Paul left Rome and arrived in Ireland a few hours later. Cardinal Lauri with his suite left Rome on June 16th, arriving in Paris on 17th, where they were received by Cardinal Verdier of Paris. Two days later, they left Paris for Folkestone, London, Chester and Holyhead, being greeted on the way by crowds of the faithful. At Holyhead, he embarked on the special steamer, the Cambria which arrived in Dunlaoire at 3.00pm on June 20th, and was escorted into the harbour by a squadron of aeroplanes. The Cardinal and his suite were met by a crowd of about 50,000 which of course included all the dignitaries of church and state and addresses of welcome were read in Irish and English. A feature of the Congress was the number of important addresses and lectures given in Irish.
The Garda Síochána Band played; mounted trumpeters sounded a fanfare; a squadron of cavalry saluted with drawn swords and the party set out on the triumphant journey into Dublin. Before and behind the car rode an escort of brilliantly uniformed hussars. At Merrion on the city boundary, two ornamental pylons had been erected and here Ald. Byrne, the Lord Mayor who had arrived in the centuries old mayoral gilded coach, formally received the legate. Again there were addresses in English, Irish and Latin before proceeding in to the Pro Cathedral, the way being lined by tumultuous crowds. Nothing quite like it had previously been seen in this country.
There followed a week of celebrations with special men's masses, women's masses and children's masses in the Phoenix Park. The special choir of 2,500 children at the children's mass on Saturday 25th was directed by Dr. Vincent O'Brien. The sectional services and masses were for French, Polish, Dutch, Lithuanian, Italian, Oriental, Canadian, Spanish, Scottish, Australian, American, Argentinean, Austrian, Belgian, German, Portuguese, Hungarian, Uruguayan, and Yugoslavian groups. Thirteen liners, serving as hotels for their passengers were anchored in Dublin bay. Of the ten cardinals who assisted at the mass in the Phoenix Park on Sunday 26th, five bore distinctly Irish names and five were of Irish birth. Among the bishops was one named O'Rourke from Danzig, whose ancestors were Irish and whose mother tongue was Slav.
The solemn High Mass on Sunday 26th June in the Phoenix Park was the climax of all the proceedings. It was to begin at 1pm but eight hours before, people had reached their places. The great open space had been divided into sections, according to countries, dioceses, parishes' etc., and stewards, Gardai and Boy Scouts were in attendance. Restaurant tents, first aid depots, information bureaux had been erected and a water supply connecting with that of the city had been laid down. The choir of more than 2000 was directed by Dr. Vincent O'Brien. At the offertory, Count John Mac Cormack who wore the distinctive robes of a Knight of Malta sang the Panis Angelicus. "One felt that the privilege now given to the singer of using his great gifts for the praise of God in the Congress Mass, in the name as it were, of the Irish race, was for him one of the greatest triumphs of his career" (Rev. P. Canon Boylan)
Another deeply moving moment was when the ancient Bell of St. Patrick was rung at the Sanctus. "There was heard a sound that must be almost unique in human history. Faint as the sound of a far-off bell….. it was the bell of St. Patrick" (G.K. Chesterton). "The little bell whose faint tinkle now heralded the coming of our Eucharistic Lord had been heard in Ireland, six centuries before the Normans came" (Canon Boylan)
Just before the end of Mass, the voice of the Holy Father was heard in a greeting from the Vatican.
There were pilgrims from Ardmore present too, at this momentous event. They travelled however, not in any special liner or train, but in a Bedford truck owned by Martin Hurley and they sat on three hard seats, in the back. A bus journey to Dublin nowadays on upholstered seats and over excellent modern roads would be regarded as tiring. The mind boggles at the prospect of sitting up straight for at least 4/5 hours on hard seats without a back, but this is what they did.
They left Ardmore from outside the boathouse, about 3am that Sunday morning. Jim Quain a fast but skilful driver, was the chauffeur and Mrs Deasy and C. Quain were in the cab with him. As to the route, they only remember Leighlinbridge, as there, there was a temporary breakdown and the other lorries with passengers whom they had passed now drove by and waved jeeringly. But off they went again. Two Americans were on board and at one stage one of them lost his straw hat. It was blown off and they didn't stop to retrieve it and he kept lamenting his ten-dollar hat. Tom Walsh speaks of the swaying of the lorry when it rounded curves at speed. Incidentally, it is fairly certain that the lorry had no insurance for carrying passengers, but then people of those days were not insurance conscious.
Our pilgrims are maddeningly vague about such details as eating or toilet facilities, but agree they had a most satisfactory meal at the Barn Café in Lucan in the evening. As regards the ceremonies themselves, Ciss Quain remembers the singing of John Mac Cormack: Jimmy Rooney, the American Indian priest in full regalia. Kathleen O'Brien was chatting with the boys from a Tullamore lorry, who on the return journey were involved in an accident with fatal casualties. A camera was stolen from Mary Ellen Flynn and a silver fox fur from Mrs Deasy, so evidently the pickpockets had a good day out. Mrs Deasy was in medical difficulties at one stage, she had given birth to a baby not long before, but a nurse was got and all ended well.
They were in O'Connell St., later on and met Sheila O'Brien (later Mrs O'Byrne of Kinsalebeg now deceased). She had come by train from Dungarvan and her memories were of being very frightened in the huge crowds at Kingsbridge, now Heuston Station. She was a girl of 16 at the time. Ciss Quain and Kathleen O'Brien were 17 and John Fitzgerald, a youngster of 13.
And so after a long day they set off for home, Johnny Moloney calling out "Next stop, Geata na bhFranncach" (i.e. Crossford Bridge). They travelled through the night, arriving in Ardmore about mass time in the morning, very tired and very dirty. Various versions of their adventures must have been going the rounds in Ardmore for some time after.
Those who travelled were:
Jim Quain *Tom Walsh, Michael Ducey, *Ciss Quain, *John Fitzgerald, *Kathleen O'Brien (Rooney), Mrs Deasy, Jerry Crowley, Mary Ellen Flynn, Willie Curran, Whitingbay (returned from the U.S) Johnie Neill, Curragh (returned from the U.S.) Johnie Moloney, Richie Troy, Micky Troy, May Lynch, *Jimmie Rooney.
*marks those who have lived till now to tell the tale!
Most of the information on the Congress is based on "The Book of the Congress 1932" by Rev. Canon Boylan.
Author: Siobhan Lincoln