Pope John Paul II becomes the first pontiff to set foot on Irish soil with his pastoral visit to the Republic of Ireland beginning on September 29, 1979. Over 2.5 million people attend events in Dublin, Drogheda, Clonmacnois, Galway, Knock, Limerick, and Maynooth during what is one of Pope John Paul’s first foreign visits. The visit is occasioned by the centenary of the reputed apparition of Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, and Saint John the Evangelist in Knock, County Mayo.
An Aer Lingus Boeing 747, named the St. Patrick, brings Pope John Paul II from Rome to Dublin Airport. The Pope kisses the ground as he disembarks. After being greeted by the President of Ireland, Dr. Patrick Hillery, the Pope flies by helicopter to the Phoenix Park where he celebrates Mass for 1,250,000 people, one quarter of the population of the island of Ireland, one third of the population of the Republic of Ireland. Afterwards he travels to Killineer, near Drogheda, where he leads a Liturgy of the Word for 300,000 people, many from Northern Ireland. There the Pope appeals to the men of violence, “on my knees I beg you to turn away from the path of violence and return to the ways of peace.” The Pope has hopes of visiting Armagh, but the security situation in Northern Ireland renders it impossible. Drogheda is selected as an alternative venue as it is situated in the Catholic Archdiocese of Armagh. Returning to Dublin that evening, the Pope is greeted by 750,000 people as he travels in an open top popemobile through the city centre and visits Aras an Uachtarain, the residence of the Irish President.
The Pope begins the second day of his tour with a short visit to the ancient monastery at Clonmacnois in County Offaly. With 20,000 in attendance, he speaks of how the ruins are “still charged with a great mission.” Later that morning he celebrates a Youth Mass for 300,000 at Ballybrit Racecourse in Galway. It is here that the Pope utters perhaps the most memorable line of his visit, “Young people of Ireland, I love you.” That afternoon, he travels by helicopter to Knock Shrine in County Mayo which he describes as “the goal of my journey to Ireland.” The outdoor Mass at the shrine is attended by 450,000. The Pope meets with the sick and elevates the church to the title of Basilica.
The final day of the visit begins with a trip to St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, the National Seminary, in County Kildare. Some 80,000 people pack the grounds of the college for the brief visit. A dense fog delays the Pope’s arrival from Dublin by helicopter. The final Mass of the Pope’s visit to Ireland is celebrated at Greenpark Racecourse in Limerick before 400,000 people, many more than had been expected. The Mass is offered for the people of Munster. Pope John Paul leaves Ireland from nearby Shannon Airport travelling to Boston where we begins a six-day tour of the United States.