Selling the Pope

Remembered as a high water mark of Irish Catholicism, the Papal Mass in Dublin’s Phoenix Park on September 29, 1979 was the biggest public event ever staged in this country. Faced with the challenge of punishing deadlines, security threats and a meagre budget by today’s standards, the organisers delivered what became an indelible cultural memory to a live audience of more than a million people. As Ireland prepares for the visit of Pope Francis later this month, Francesca Comyn looks back at the epic preparations of 39 years ago

12th August, 2018
Carpenters at work on the Papal platform in August 1979 Pic: Pat Maxwell

On Friday, August 3, 1979, Ronnie Tallon, a senior partner at renowned modern architect firm Scott Tallon Walker, accepted a commission and a half from the Dublin archdiocese: to build an outdoor cathedral for a million people in the Phoenix Park.

A fortnight earlier, Pope John Paul II had ended rumour and speculation by accepting an invite to visit Ireland. While the trip would take in gatherings at Knock, Drogheda, Clonmacnoise, Galway, Limerick and Maynooth, the focal...

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