Sunday 18 March 2018

1932 How it was then

IT's testament to the religious devotion of the Irish public that so many made it to Dublin's Phoenix Park for the International Eucharistic Congress in June 1932.

Ireland was a country on its knees, crippled with unemployment at a time when the world was in the grip of the Great Depression.

But despite the widespread poverty and poor wages, some one million people made the trip to Dublin for the Mass to close the week-long celebrations.

They came in their droves by bus and tram to pay homage -- at least 130 special trains were put on for the Mass alone.

The diaspora returned home by boat to take part, with thousands camping in the open air or sleeping in cars so they could be part of the great celebration.

It was a very different Ireland in 1932. The country's population was just under three million, with the vast majority living in rural towns and villages. Just 500,000 lived in Dublin.

Employment prospects were bleak, with farmers forced to endure very low prices for their crops and agricultural labourers earning as little as 15 shillings a week -- barely enough to survive, much less to feed a growing family.

This had the inevitable result of high emigration rates. Some 100,000 people left the country over the course of the decade, most to the UK, in search of a better life.

There was no television, and a visit to the pub, GAA match or cinema to see a 'picture' were common forms of entertainment.

Among the films released that year were 'The Big Broadcast' starring Bing Crosby, 'A Farewell to Arms' based on the story by Ernest Hemingway and 'Grand Hotel' which won best picture at the Academy Awards.

Access to a radio was rare for most households, although the number was growing. Just 30,000 households which held a radio licence could tune in to live coverage, the biggest event broadcast by the fledgling Radio Eireann at that time.

Many houses were still without electricity or running water -- although the opening of the Ardnacrusha hydroelectric power plant on the River Shannon three years earlier would help change that over the coming years.

Politically, a sea change was under way with Fianna Fail being elected to power over William T Cosgrave's Cumann na nGaedheal -- a position they would grow accustomed to over the coming decades.

In fact, new Taoiseach Eamon de Valera took centre stage at the Eucharist Congress, attending high profile events throughout the week -- despite having been excommunicated during the Civil War by Church authorities.

Irish Independent Supplement

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