Wednesday 26 October 2016

Paper doors and poignant pins at the Pope

Published 05/10/2015 | 02:30

With the current Pope having enjoyed such a successful visit to the US and people wondering here why Ireland hasn't had a Papal re-visit, an Irish friend in America asked if I'd been one of the million people who went to see JPII on his visit in 1979. He had, and remembered the special buses from Nutgrove that ferried the faithful to the Phoenix Park. I did too, I kept the special edition ticket for years afterwards, before it disappeared to the place where stuff just goes. I went with my granny and grandad who had come down from the North and we found our assigned place well before dawn. It was my first time to be out in the dawn side of dark.

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A few hours in, the crowd went wild pointing upwards, we had been told that that was his plane flying in to Dublin Airport. What? I had eaten my sandwiches and everything and he hadn't even landed? Eleven-year-old me was devastated, this was going to be a long day. I amused myself with trips to the toilet. They took about an hour so it was a good way to kill time. And they form my clearest memory of the day. There were more toilets than I had ever seen in my life, plywood cubicles or something over a trough of hideous waste, that is a sort of general memory, but what is clear in my mind are the paper doors.

Whoever decided on crepe paper to shield the faithful's modesty had seemingly forgotten that Ireland is a bit prone to the odd breeze. Inside the cubicles along the edge of the doors was a poignant selection of safety pins with which people had desperately tried to keep the "doors" shut. My granny who had done the trip earlier was wise to this and offered me a safety pin. But by the time I got there the doors were frayed at the edges, fringed from every ripped attempt at safety pin privacy.

Outside I bumped into my friend Cheryl. We were aware that the odds of this meeting were low and discussed it, assorted Pope-sighting rumours and some general gossip. In the spirit of the day, upon parting, I offered her my safety pin.

Sunday Independent

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