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Souvenirs from 80 years ago a wonderful reminder of unifying occasion

What connects commemorative badges, choral sheet music, a Christ the King statue and a flag with a phantom image of a British monarch?

The answer is that they're all examples of souvenirs produced for 1932 Eucharistic Congress, which was held in Dublin 80 years ago, and some of these items can be found in the Archdiocese of Dublin's fascinating collection of memorabilia from the congress, which was recently on display at a reunion event for those who were there in 1932.

"The archival collection . . . was gathered during and immediately after the 1932 congress," says Noelle Dowling, the Dublin diocesan archivist. "The congress had been run under the auspices of Archbishop Byrne of Dublin, and he was responsible for it really. As a result, all minutes of meetings, correspondence from visiting prelates and dignitaries all came through Archbishop's House. They also managed to remember to collect and gather samples of the publications and badges."

It sounds as if the organisers were already thinking about how the congress would go down in posterity, and their employment of 'cutting agencies' to monitor media coverage of the event also seems ahead of its time.

"There are a number of scrap books with press cuttings from newspapers from all over the world who were reporting on the congress," says Noelle.

"These were sent in by agencies whose job it was to collect anything of relevance from provincial and national papers and international ones."

Although souvenirs like 'The Handbook of the Eucharistic Congress', which cost half a crown, were produced specifically for the occasion, there was an existing tradition of decorating Dublin's streets with flags for special occasions, such as the royal visits that took place before independence.

Says Noelle: "There is one report of a flag used in 1932 with the congress crest, but people kept thinking they could see an image of a lady underneath the design. Of course, rumour had it that it was the face of Our Lady. When the flag was taken down and examined, it turned out it had Queen Victoria on it and the flag had simply been re-used for the 1932 event!"

Among Noelle's favourite pieces in the collection are the 'Spiritual Bouquets' sent to the congress from around the globe.

"These mainly came from schools run by missionaries and contained lists of prayers, masses, devotions etc, offered for the success of the congress."

One from three Irish Ursuline Sisters in the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia, is particularly poignant.

"They refer to the fact that they left Ireland a long time ago and probably would never get home again," she explains.

The collection has garnered an enthusiastic reaction from the public, with some of the attendees of the 1932 congress who viewed it at the reunion event contacting Noelle later to offer items for the collection, either on loan or as a permanent donation. And younger people also find the memorabilia intriguing.

Noelle says that school students "love the images of the tented cities (put up by congress attendees). It reminds them of the music festivals they attend and they are quite taken aback to think that something similar had happened in the past.

"We sometimes forget what incredible, exciting lives our parents and grandparents had. They were once young too!"

The collection will be on display to the public at the RDS Library from June 5. Access will be restricted to pilgrims during the 2012 Eucharistic Congress (June 10-17) but open to all again from June 18-22. Admission free.

Irish Independent Supplement