Eucharistic Congress (1932)

There was a time when the man of ‘gentle heart and kindly nature’, Isaac Butt, seemed destined to lose his namesake bridge. The bridge, Dublin Corporation proposed, should lose its status as one of the Liffey’s monuments to Irish revolutionaries and become ‘Congress Bridge’. The Corporation was anxious to commemorate the holding of the 31st International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, but in the spirit of the times a compromise was reached and a plaque now records that momentous year, 1932, when the 31st International Eucharistic Congress was held in Dublin - the same year in which the rebuild of the bridge was completed.

Despite the meagre resources available to the fledgling Irish Free State, Dublin, and the whole country, gloriously rose to the occasion of the Congress. The impoverished tenement dwellers eagerly erected devotional shrines and gaily bedecked their rundown dwellings in the sunny yellow and whites of the papal colours. Flowers and flags, garlands and banners coloured the streets and Dubliners were delightfully bemused by the gravely bearded churchmen of the east in their exotic vestments. Those who held the reins of power organised and attended lavish state banquets in Dublin Castle at which the guest of honour was the Papal Legate, Cardinal Lorenzo Lauri. His arrival into Dun Laoghaire harbour was accompanied by a formation of planes from the Irish Air Corps and crowds strained to see his procession into the city, school children forming a guard of honour for its length. Blackrock College hosted a garden party for the visitors and Dublin’s well heeled and influential Catholics, under fortuitously clear blue skies.

At night, the most modern of lighting technology bathed Dublin’s signature buildings in beautiful, serene colours - an unaccustomed, but most welcome sight to citizens weary of war and penury. The lucky, albeit tiny, number of the populace who had radio licences, tuned in to the Congress broadcasts, magnanimously inviting their friends and neighbours to gather round. A new, high powered transmitter in Athlone allowed listeners of the BBC and continental Europe to tune in.

The highlight of the Dublin Congress was the Latin Mass on Sunday, June 26th, which also brought the congress to a close. The transformation of the Phoenix Park for the occasion was almost biblical - an ornate high altar, richly robed priests and attendant choirs looked down upon the congregation of almost one million people. Pope Pius XI spoke live from his private library in the Vatican and John McCormack sang a divinely haunting Pannis Angelicus.

The view from Butt Bridge, on those June summer evenings Dublin 1932, was the sight of a lifetime. To the west, the beribboned city bathed in the light of the setting sun and to the east ocean going liners moored along the quays awaiting the rising sun.

by Annette Black, Wicklow
Published on 17th September 2013