Monday 19 August 2019

How John Paul became our most popular boy's name...

One in 10 baby boys born in Ireland in 1980 was called 'John Paul' after the Pontiff's historic visit 35 years ago. Graham Clifford spoke to some of his namesakes to find out how being a John Paul has shaped their lives

Faithful: After the Pope’s September 1979 visit (pictured), John Paul became the name of choice for many newborn boys
Faithful: After the Pope’s September 1979 visit (pictured), John Paul became the name of choice for many newborn boys
JP O'Donnell and his wife Paula
John Paul Phelan TD at Leinster House
JP Chambers
John Paul Boyle, at the controls of his 737 Flight Simulator at Dublin Airport
John Paul Doyle
Illustrator John Paul Murray

Graham Clifford

By the time the most popular Pope in the history of the Catholic Church touched down at Dublin airport 35 years ago, the country had worked itself into a frenzy.

On September 29, 1979, one third of the Republic's population, or a quarter of the island's, totalling 1,250,000 people, attended the opening Mass of Pope John Paul II's historic visit in Dublin's Phoenix Park.

The following day, 300,000 attended a Mass at Ballybrit racecourse in Galway and 450,000 went to a service at Knock Shrine in Mayo. Ireland prayed as the nation ground to a halt.

Upwards of 20,000 people followed the charismatic church leader to the ancient monastery at Clonmacnoise while 400,000 bid him farewell at the Greenpark racecourse outside Limerick on October 1.

As a result of his visit, 10pc of boys born in Ireland in and around 1980 were named 'John Paul'.

The Irish Independent caught up with some of those boys and asked them now, as grown men, what being named after Pope John Paul II means to them.

'Religion makes me angry at times...'

JP O'Donnell and his wife Paula


Born: 23/09/80

FROM: Dungloe, Co Donegal. Recently married to Paula Reid

Occupation: Construction site foreman in London; and bodhran player/vocalist

"I'm the youngest in my family and when I was born my parents decided to call me after the Pope. They didn't actually travel from Donegal to see him but, of course, it became popular for baby boys born soon after his visit to take the name.

"Now when I think about it, I do believe in God but 'religion' makes me angry at times - it's all wrong."

'It has been a conversation starter over the years, especially with the Polish commnity'

John Paul Feeley

Born: 27/10/81

From: Blacklion, Co Cavan

Occupation: Solicitor and Fianna Fail Councillor

"My parents travelled to see the Pope in Knock while my oldest brother went to Galway.

"I'm a practising Catholic and would regard my faith as being important to me. I've visited the tomb of Pope John Paul II in Rome and planned to go to his Canonisation Ceremony this year but it coincided with the local elections, so I had to miss it.

"I was in the Phoenix Park on the evening of his funeral for the prayer service at the Papal Cross.

"The name has been a conversation starter over the years - especially with members of the Polish community.

"One incident occurred through my involvement with Ogra Fianna Fail when I welcomed Jeffrey Donaldson, DUP MP, to the Youth Conference held in the Slieve Russell, Ballyconnell.

"After my welcome he joked: 'This is the first time anyone called John Paul had welcomed me anywhere!'."

'My parents went to see him in Knock'

John Paul Heaney

Born: 23/07/80

From: Clairemorris, Co Mayo

Occupation: Television editor with Ireland West Music TV

"There was no doubt about it, I was totally called about Pope John Paul II.

"My parents, John and Chrissie, went to see him in Knock in 1979.

"They took the four children they had at the time, too, and abandoned their car between Claremorris and Ballindine and got a bus to the Shrine.

"There was half a million people there that day. My mother remembers the helicopter flying over them with the Pope on board, coming from Galway, and thousands of people cheering. I would go to Mass regularly myself."

'I was actually  named after his  predecessor...'

John Paul Phelan TD at Leinster House

John Paul Phelan TD

Born: 29/09/78

From: Kilkenny

Occupation: Fine Gael TD for Carlow-Kilkenny constituency and former Senator

"Everyone thinks I was named after Pope John Paul II but actually it was after his predecessor, John Paul I, who died just 33 days into his papacy. He passed away the day before I was born.

"In 1979, when I was still a baby, my parents travelled up to the Phoenix Park to see John Paul II.

"As for me I go to Mass a bit but... the role of religion in my life has changed a lot over the years. It's certainly been a conversation starter but, sadly, I'm a year older than the majority of John Pauls walking around Ireland today."

'This way they were getting a saint and a Pope all in one...'

JP Chambers

John Patrick 'Paul' Chambers

Born: 17/03/80

From: Camp, Tralee, Co Kerry; Married to Muireann and dad to Clara (3), Cillian (1) and Emily (2wks)

Occupation: Blocklayer and househusband

"I was actually to be called John Paul after the Pope but I arrived early on St Patrick's Day, 1980, so a change of plan was called for. It was decided instead of 'John Paul' I'd be 'John Patrick' - that way they were getting a Saint and a Pope all in one.

"Years later I took the name 'Paul' for my confirmation.

"In 1979, my father John travelled up to Limerick to see the Pope but my mother, Dolly, couldn't as she was pregnant with me. I suppose I'd say that while I am religious, I wouldn't be a regular Mass-goer."

'It makes lying about your age very difficult'

John Paul Doyle

John Paul Doyle

Born: 3/08/79

From: Terenure, Dublin, but living in Surrey, England, with partner Hayley

Occupation: Rugby union referee

"I was mostly called after my grandfather, John (Johnny) Doyle, but there was definitely a nod to the Pope, too. I would still consider myself Catholic and from a Carmelite School [Terenure College], then I went to a Catholic Teacher Training University in St Mary's, University Strawberry Hill outside London.

"The name has certainly provoked discussion over the years - especially with Irish rugby supporters.

"Pope John Paul's visit was such a historical event and people always remember where they were in 1979. The only downside is that when you are named John Paul in Ireland it makes lying about your age very difficult!"

'I was born on the same day RTE announced the Pope would visit'

John Paul Boyle, at the controls of his 737 Flight Simulator at Dublin Airport

John Paul Boyle

Born: 22/07/79

From: Bunaman, Annagry, Co Donegal; Dad to sons Sam (2) and Alex (7 months)

Occupation: Owns the flight simulation company

"On that early sunny Sunday morning in July 1979 when I decided to leave the comfort of my mother's womb and meet the world, it had just been announced on RTE Radio that Pope John Paul II would pay a visit to Ireland - so my parents decided that it was fate and that I should have the honour of being named after the great man.

"I am not very religious at all and don't go to Mass very often.

I suppose I would consider myself a non-practising Catholic.

My mother would have often joked, maybe hoped, that I would become a priest.

"But I guess when I was the only kid in the class who wasn't an altar boy my mother must have realised that the writing was on the wall."

'My grandmother, who is very holy, requested that the next boy be called John Paul'

Illustrator John Paul Murray

John Paul Murray

Born: 08/06/81

From: Ferns, Co Wexford; Married to Aishling and has an 18-month-old son, Charlie

Occupation: Illustrator and graphic designer

"My parents went to Limerick to see Pope John Paul in 1979 along with my grand-mother. I remember framed commemorative photos of his visit hanging in my grandmother's house.

"Although I was born nearly two years after the Pope's visit, my grand-mother, who was very holy, requ-ested that the next boy be called 'John Paul'.

"I would consider myself a Roman Catholic alright - but I wouldn't call myself religious. I am spiritual and attend Mass occasionally."

Irish Independent

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