Ladies of Lourdes on Seán McDermott Street prepare for a pope

Hope and expectation is running high but confirmation of a visit is thin on the ground

Kathleen Quinn, Nan White, Margaret Foley and Bridie Byrne, at Our Lady of Lourdes Day Care Centre on Sean McDermott Street, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Kathleen Quinn, Nan White, Margaret Foley and Bridie Byrne, at Our Lady of Lourdes Day Care Centre on Sean McDermott Street, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

If Pope Francis is looking for a life-affirming experience during his forthcoming visit, he could do a lot worse than drop into Our Lady of Lourdes Day Care Centre on Dublin’s Seán McDermott Street.

The centre, run by Bernie Pierce and a crew of able helpers, provides daily lunch, comfort and company for some 180 elderly members of a community and locality that, in recent decades, has become emblematic of a particular variety of inner-city problems.

But that doesn’t mean spirits are broken. Far from it, as The Irish Times found this week.

“Howya gorgeous,” exclaimed Tess Carroll as this 65-year-old reporter hoved into view shortly before afternoon bingo. “If I win the lotto, you’ll hear from me,” she said with an air of wicket flirtatiousness.

Tess, who hails from Hill Street – “But I’ve got no blues,” she quipped – thinks the prospect of Pope Francis dropping by Sean McDermott Street is “one of the best things that ever happened”, assuming of course that it does.

Hope and expectation is running high, though confirmation of a visit is thin on the ground, for obvious security reasons.

In 1979, hopes were similarly elevated but came to nothing (though the indefatigable Tess did get to the Phoenix Park for Pope John Paul II’s Mass and she’ll be out cheering this time too – “you better believe it! Up the Dubs!” she says).

This time, the word is that Francis will swing by Sean McDermott Street, with a probable pause at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, resting place of the remains of the Venerable Matt Talbot . . . and just down the road from the imposing former Magdalene laundry run by the Sisters of Charity.

Vintage

Three ladies of a certain vintage – Kathleen Quinn, Margaret Foley and Bridie Byrne – are chatting after lunch and before the bingo session gets going. Bernie asks if they’d like to talk to The Irish Times about the pope.

“Oh yes,” says Bridie, 100 years young on May 25th and proud holder of the letter from Michael D.

The Irish Times is instructed to sit in the corner, next to Bridie.

“She’s looking for a fella,” says Kathleen.

When told there is no vacancy (a disappointment to us both, surely), Bridie asks “does she look after you?”, to which the answer is an emphatic yes.

“Ah good, that’s good,” says Bridie, a former cook in Trinity College, a disclosure that prompts a sharing of memories but from two wholly different perspectives.

And the pope? Would they like him to come?

“I’d be charmed,” said Bridie. “I’d be delighted. Even if he just nodded \[in my direction], it’d give you a lift.”

Kathleen would like a closer encounter.

“I’d love to touch him,” she says. “Not to shake hands; just to touch him. I’d treasure that I would.”

“She wouldn’t wash her hands for a week,” says Margaret.

The three are joined by Mary Deegan, formerly of Gloucester Place but living now in Marino. Mary raises an issue on which there is general agreement.

“I honestly think that the money getting spent for the pope to come here is a living disgrace when there’s people homeless,” she says.

“I love the man,” says Kathleen, “I really do. I’d kiss his feet.”

Tony Durkan from Gardiner Street could probably restrain himself on that front. But he is looking forward to the visit and he hopes there’ll be no protests.

“I hope he gets a good reception,” says Tony.

Should he say anything about the abuse, or about the laundries? He should, says Tony.

“What he should do is try and address the abuse, say something about it,” he says. “Maybe apologise for what’s happened – that’s all he can say.”

Deep faith

Joan McAdam is a woman of deep faith which she puts into practice by working with Alone, the charity that seeks to help older people, and by making twice yearly visits to Lourdes in France where she is a handmaiden, helping people in and out of baths.

“I love my church and I love my priests,” she says, “except the ones that did the dirty”.

Fondling a neck chain with a Holy Mary, Queen of Heaven medallion on it, Joan says that while she welcomes the pope, she does not need a papal visit to affirm her faith. Like Mary Deegan, she would prefer to have seen the money spent on the homeless.

She too would like Pope Francis to address the abuse issue.

“He should make an overall statement,” she says. “He can only apologise for what went on in the church – say sorry on behalf of all the church and make sure it’s being rooted out.”

Opposite the day care centre and church, St Mary’s Mansions is getting a €21 million make over, a huge crane towering over the place. The sound of hammering filling the air.

On the site hoarding on Gloucester Place Lower, a mural showing painted ladies of the night reminds that the area, as immortalised in Nighttown in Ulysses, has many stories to tell.

Not all of them perhaps fit for a pope.