I don't recall exactly; it was too long ago
Mum was none too impressed, when we got home from ThePhoenix Park. It had been a long day, and my teenagesiblings hadn't prepared dinner in our absence. Shedarted those dark, disapproving, west-of-Ireland eyesaround the kitchen, before frowning at the freezer. Idon't recall what she cooked that day, it's too longago. But you can bet I ate it.
The Pope, John Paul the 2nd, had just done his firstever Irish gig, Dublin Ireland, 1979, Phoenix Park. Itwas a sell-out. If you meet a John Paul who isn'tBishop of Rome, you can bet he's Irish or of Irishdescent, and born in '79. Or maybe just a Frenchman.
'They shot the Pope! They shot the Pope!' My sisterscreamed as the Pope fell to his knees to kiss theground. He'd just got off the plane. She thoughtthey'd shot the Pope. My mother got such a fright thatshe started smoking again. Upright again, they gavehim a spade to dig a hole for a tree, and my fathercommended him on his technique. My father workedconstruction.
1979. Everyone went to see him, 1.5m people, half thepopulation at the time. The other half saw him thenext day at the youth mass in Galway, including mysister, the youth. She travelled with the local hippyfolk choir. It was still the 70s after all. They werethe usual array of hairy misfits. In beads, flares andtie-dye, they specialised in making century-old hymnssound like they'd debuted at Woodstock. They swayedwhen they sang and held their hands up to the sky. That, that and the home-made knitwear, made themespecially embarrassing. And of course, the chant:'J-P-2, WE LOVE YOU, J-P-2, WE LOVE YOU.' To which heanswered, 'Young people of Ireland, I loff yew,'sounding remarkably like The Count from Sesame Street.The crowd loved him, they went berserk.
I wasn't old enough to be a youth, so my parentscarted myself and my brother, Bren, off to The PhoenixPark. When we got there it was already full, and JP2wasn't due out for hours. There were lots of supportacts - but we were at the back, and couldn't hear athing.
'Oh no,' said baby brother, 'Nuns.''Really?' I said, 'where?''On stage. No tears, okay? No tears!''I'll be fine,' I said, 'nothing to worry about.'
He'd caught me having a cry a couple of Saturdaysprevious, while watching an old movie. Debbie Reynoldsin The Singing Nun.
'Do not embarrass me in front of half of the fuckingcountry, okay?' He warned me.'Hey, it's groovy,' I answered.
He looked at me in dismay.
'I don't care if this is 1979, you really shouldn'tuse that type of language.''Okay, okay, no tears. It's cool.''No, Kev,' he added, as the last word was alwaysreserved for him, 'it's really, really not cool.'
But still. The applause reached us in a wave and Ijoined in enthusiastically. Bren disapproved and toldme so, telepathically, from where he sat behind me. Hewas hoping the Pope would say something aboutliberation theology in Central America, maybe evengive it a thumbs-up. Although only 9, he was the bestinformed person I knew on the plight of theSandinistas in Nicaragua. In fact, Bren was the onlyperson I knew who'd even heard of Nicaragua. He didn'tgrow the beard till he was 12, but he was an old 9.
Mum had borrowed a thermal flask from a godlessneighbour who would spend the day patrolling thedeserted streets, watching for burglars. Of coursethere was only enough tea for grown ups, all two ofthem. Me and Bren had finished our cans of Lilt beforewe even sat down on the grass. The grass was my firstdisappointment, I thought there were seats atconcerts. It's a mass, clarified my mother, not aconcert dear, and gave me a sandwich to keep me quiet. A slippery-ham and cheddar cheese sandwich, with hotmustard on white processed bread. I almost choked. It was hot that day, and the blessed Saint Patrickkept the rain at bay. He didn't do anything about thewasps though, and people were doing the wasp-dance allover the place - running in circles and flapping theirhands about their heads. It was fun to watch but wedidn't laugh too hard because on a day like what was init you'd be sure to get yours. The temperature roseand rose, and by midday me and Bren were dehydratedand very much wanting to go home.
'This better be worth it,' he said.'Of course it will,' I assured him, in a big-brotherlyway.'What the fuck do you know?' he scoffed.'It's character-building,' said my father, in aquestioning tone.
I don't recall how we got to the park. It's too longago. But I remember how we got home. Freight trainshad been mobilised to take pressure off the roadsduring the papal visit. We pulled back the doors andhelped each other into the boxcar, like refugeesfleeing. Once aboard, I stood on the edge with myhands on my hips, and as we pulled away, waved to thepilgrims still waiting. I'd never seen so many people.
'Get away from the door, you eejit,' my brother again.
Inside was clean, but smelt of livestock. And therewasn't any lighting. My asthma started to play upalmost immediately, but luckily mum had my puffer inher handbag. A girl, not much older than myself, askedmy father for a cigarette and he told her to fuck off.Lovely language indeed, said my mother, allconsidered. So he felt bad, and gave her a roll-up. Anaged hippy started singing 'He's got the whole worldin his hands' and the rest of the herd, minus us,joined in. By the time the train got to our station Hehad just about everyone in that carriage in His hands,and, at my brother's behest, Che Guevara, LeonardPeltier, and Daniel Ortega - leader of theSandinistas, the once and future Presidento.
We'd been at The Park about six hours before HisHoliness, The Bishop of Rome came out and took a bow.My mother insisted that Bren and I come out from underthe origami newspaper-tent we'd built to hide from thesun. A change had definitely come over the crowd. Itwasn't quite Beetlemania, but I saw grown men cry thatday. The women were especially hysterical. Stretching,moaning, falling over.
'Ahhh!''What? What?' my father inquired.'The lady fell on our tent.' 'She'll be grand.''But ...''Ssshhhh!'
Then the Pope climbed aboard his Popemobile and setoff to work the crowd. Thing was, he started at theback, not up front where the early-bird kissarseCatholics were. He held his hands clasped above hishead like he was a boxer, God's Heavyweight Champion,and passed within spitting distance of us. At thatmoment my father snatched my blue and white ManchesterCity Football Club hat from my head. The hat was mypride and joy, mum had knitted it for me. The colourswere pretty close, and I'd sewed the badge on myself.There was no official merchandising in 1979, how quickdid that *take* off.
'Fecking hat,' he added, ruining my papal moment. Itried to make eye-contact with JP, hoping he'd comedown from his Popemobile and kick my old man's assaround The Park, and make him say the rosary inpenance or worse, but he was gone.
'Does anyone want this last sandwich, or...?' mumasked.
We all did, of course, we were famished, but wouldnever say as much.
'No, no, you go ahead, I've had enough, you eat it,I'm full.' Said we three in unison. My father rolled acigarette.
Then the Pope said mass. And as masses go, it wasdefinitely one of them. Though truth be told, I don'trecall exactly; it's far, far too long ago.
About the author:
Kevin is a lapsed Catholic, but full-time practising Poohist. Winnie-The-Poohist.