Can’t pope, won’t pope? Eight ways to avoid the papal visit

There are lots of alternatives this weekend – and ironic takes on Francis’s Irish trip

It’s estimated that 500,000 people will descend on the Phoenix Park for the papal Mass on Sunday, while countless others will head to Knock, Croke Park or even the streets of Dublin to catch a glimpse of His Holiness.

For many Pope Francis's visit to Ireland is a highlight of the summer, spiritually and socially, that they'll be talking about for years to come. Others are viewing the 36-hour trip differently. For some it's merely an inconvenience, given the congestion and general disruption it will cause. For others it's an affront, given the Catholic Church's cover-up of child sexual abuse, both here and around the world, over decades.

So is it possible to ignore the visit? Does having missed out on tickets for the ecumenical events on offer mean a damp squib of a weekend? Or, if you prefer to swim against the papal tide entirely, are there alternative events that might be worth your time instead?

Mattie McGrath TD has said those who do not want to participate in the events can either ignore the visit or “go to the beach”. We have some better ideas. So whether you can’t pope or you won’t pope, here are seven ways to have a relatively Francis-free weekend (and a tip for enjoying the visit in an ironic way).


1: Attend a protest

For every Catholic who admires Pope Francis as a defender of the world's poor and marginalised, there are also those who are angry that the pope and the church he leads has failed to deal fully with child abuse, cover-ups and victim redress. Thousands are expected to navigate pope-related transport restrictions to attend at the #Stand4Truth rally at the Garden of Remembrance on Parnell Square in Dublin at 3pm on Sunday, the day of the papal Mass in the Phoenix Park.

With live performances from Hozier and Roisin O of Thanks Brother #Stand4Truth has been organised by the abuse survivor Colm O’Gorman and lawyer and activist Simone George, among others.

It’s billed as an event for anyone who has “been abused or hurt by the Catholic Church” or who wants “to stand in solidarity with those who have been abused”. Peaceful protesters are invited to meet the event’s organisers at the GPO, on O’Connell Street, at 2pm to walk to the Garden of Remembrance.

2: Go to a gig

John Lydon lands in Dublin, with his band Public Image Ltd, for their first Irish show in five years, at Vicar Street. A celebration of the band's longevity – PiL is essentially the phoenix that rose from the ashes of the Sex Pistols – it comes two years after the release of deluxe editions of Metal Box and Album, two of their most notorious CDs. Will Lydon, who is not known for being backwards in coming forwards, refer to His Eminence from the Vicar Street stage?

Alternatively, the Peruvian rapper Immortal Technique is at the Sugar Club in Dublin on Saturday evening, around the same time as Daniel O'Donnell et al take to the stage at Croke Park. The GZA, aka the Genius, of Wu-Tang Clan, is at the Sugar Club on Sunday.

3: Don’t make any unnecessary journeys

We'll not sugar-coat it: getting through Dublin city this weekend is not going to be easy. Roads will be closed on or around the quays, with Smithfield, Patrick Street, O'Connell Street, Parnell Street and their surrounds shut for much of the weekend. On Sunday, August 26th, closures extend out to Kylemore Road, Old Naas Road, Inchicore, South Circular Road and surrounding areas. (See for all the details.) Much of Knock will be closed from Saturday evening in advance of the pope's fleeting visit. TheN17will close between Charlestown and Claremorris from midnight until at least 3pm on Sunday.

Parking will be a stone-cold nightmare in either spot; the powers that be advise sticking to public transport wherever possible. You will, however, be sharing the Luas, Dart, other trains and buses (which are running on Sunday times) with close to 500,000 Mass-goers. Consider yourself warned.

4: Netflix and, er, chill

RTÉ will cover Pope Francis's every (public) move this weekend, but plenty else on if you'd rather stick your head in the sand. The Innocents, starring Guy Pearce and Sorcha Groundsell, is available to stream on Netflix from this Friday. The drama is about two teenagers, June and Harry, who run away from their repressive families to be together. The young couple's attempts to escape are slightly derailed by June's ability to shape-shift. Elsewhere on the streaming platform, Follow This (from Thursday) goes behind the scenes of BuzzFeed's award-winning journalism. The young-adult romcom To All the Boys I've Loved Before (which started streaming last weekend) appears to be Netflix's latest word-of-mouth smash. From what we can gather, it seems to be as far from the Stations of the Cross as it's possible to get.

5: Go to a show

The Phoenix Park stage may well be the one that matters most to many, but the capital has plenty of other stages to choose from. On Saturday night you can, for example, choose from Wicked, at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, A Skull in Connemara, at the Olympia, or The Playboy of the Western World, at the Mill Theatre in Dundrum.

6: Take a weekend break

Prefer to swim against the papal-Mass tide? Make your way to Galway for an entirely different vibe. John Conneely and friends offer up a helping of jazz and blues at the Róisín Dubh, on Dominick Street, on Sunday night, while Green Earth Organics, a 12-hectare farm just outside Galway city, is holding a sustainability and food festival.

In Cork, the Masters of Tradition festival features the full spectrum of Irish music. The five-day event, which winds down on Sunday, will kick off in Bantry, headlined by its artistic director, Martin Hayes.

In Belfast, dance fans should find much to like at Belfast Vital, at Boucher Road playing fields, where the bill includes Martin Garrix, Zara Larsson, Loop and Steve Angello.

7: Have a family day out

Dublin Zoo, Farmleigh and the Phoenix Park may be out of bounds this weekend, but a decent far-from-the-madding-crowd alternative for little ones might be Sea Life in Bray, Co Wicklow. which is hosting a Lego event this weekend. Children can discover curious creatures of the deep as they navigate a trail to find hidden Lego pieces. If they solve the challenge they'll receive a Lego diver mini figure to take home. Online tickets cost €10.75 for adults and €8.50 for kids. has the lowdown.

8. See a Museum of Childhood showcase

Dun Laoghaire is set to host a series of events which are designed to show what a Museum of Children could look like in Dublin. It would be a museum to showcase the lives and history of children across Ireland, both the good and the bad. This special event day is designed to keep the whole family entertained all day long with a number of special events.

Write On comprises several activities for young writers take place in the Lexicon Library on Haigh Terrace including a display of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books for any budding detectives, children's creative writing workshops and a young teens writing workshop and a session on children's rights. The activities are free but must be booked via Eventbrite.

Can You Dig It? is a special archaelogical dig for children in the grounds of St Michael's Church on Marine Road. Guided by Dr Michael Powers, it will take place from 11am to 5pm. There will also be puppety from 11am to 1pm followed by seanachaí and hopscotch from 1pm to 3pm. Again, the activities are free but must be booked in advance through Eventbrite.

Skip To It offers the grown ups a chance to get in on the fun at a "professionally run" skipping workshop by Skip`n' Run. It takes places at Johnny Carr's Playground on Library Road from 11am to 4pm. Booking is not required for this event so why not rehearse your old skipping rhymes and learn some new ones?

The Museum of Childhood has set up an Eventbrite page to book tickets for their day's events.

And if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em

If ironic enjoyment of national events is more your speed, Mary's Bar on Wicklow Street in Dublin is offering "seven nights of uninterrupted holiness". There's Holy Trad (which was on Tuesday), Even Holier Trad (which is on tomorrow, at 7.30pm), a Father Ted quiz (today, 7pm) and a screening of the papal Mass on Sunday, at 3pm – with, no doubt, a hefty side order of tongue-in-cheek commentary.