1932 Eucharistic Congress: display of Irish Catholicism unmatched even by papal visit


IT IS doubtful whether the 50th International Eucharistic Congress will witness such crowds in Dublin as did the 31st in 1932. That took place from June 22nd to June 26th and its final Mass in the Phoenix Park was said to have been attended by a quarter of the population of the Irish Free State at the time, writes Patsy McGarry.

It has also been claimed that as many as half a million people crowded around O'Connell Bridge in Dublin city centre for the final blessing from the Papal Legate, Cardinal Lorenzo Lauri.

Crowds at those 1932 events reportedly exceeded those at the 1979 Mass in the Phoenix Park celebrated by Pope John Paul II.

A radio station was established in Athlone in 1932 to coincide with the Congress. Known as Radio Athlone, it became Radio Éireann in 1938.

It allowed those at home to hear John McCormack sing Panis Angelicus during that final Mass and the words of Pope Pius XI broadcast from Rome.

Some days earlier, the almost nine-mile route from Dún Laoghaire to the Pro Cathedral was lined by rows of 36,000 schoolchildren, to honour Cardinal Lauri.

A report in The Irish Timesof events in the Phoenix Park that day recorded ". . . the audition was marvellous, whether it was of the full tones of the Cardinal Legate as he spoke the Mass, the tuneful antiphon of the choir, the sharp clamour of the trumpets as they paid homage at the elevation of the Host, or the beautiful voice of John McCormack . . .

"It was at that moment of the Elevation of the Host, the supreme point in Catholic ritual, that one fully realised the common mind that swallowed up all individuality in the immense throng."

But, as UCC historians John Paul McCarthy and Tomas O'Riordan pointed out, "nothing could have been more repugnant to northern Protestant identity. . . Reports argued that Ireland had never been more united than it was during these six extraordinary days. When looked at through the lens of the northeastern Protestant, June 1932 was evidence, if any was needed, why a border was needed in the first place. "

And that is probably one reason why the 50th Eucharistic Congress of 2012 in Dublin will be a much more low-key event than its triumphalist predecessor.