Remembering the 1932 International Eucharistic Congress
Fr Paul Connell and Phil Tierney have written articles on the 1932 International Eucharistic Congress, the last time the event was hosted in Ireland.
In his piece, Fr Connell outlines the origins of the Eucharistic Congresses and paints a fascinating picture of how the staging the 1932 international gathering was awarded to Ireland. Click here to read the full text of the article.
He outlines the steps that led to the announcement in 1929 and the preparations that paved the way to the historic celebrations three years later. The article details the negotiations between Church and State that were necessary, the efforts to finance the event and the spiritual exercises that were conducted before the Congress began.
The list of international dignitaries that attended the 1932 gathering makes for interesting reading, highlighting the considerable network that the Irish Church had woven in the early part of the twentieth century. But it is the panorama of local excitement and participation in Dublin and across the country that makes most vivid reading in Fr Connell's article. The honour guard of army horsemen; the great buildings floodlit and decorated with flowers; every street, laneway and tenement vying to erect the finest bunting, garlands, banners, floral arrangements grottos, shrines and religious iconography; these images lasted for generations in the memories of those who took part in what became one of the most significant events of the young Republic.
The highlight of the Congress was the Pontifical High Mass on Sunday 26 June 1932. Pope Pius XI made a live radio address just before the final blessing. The choir was some 2000 strong and the internationally renowned Irish tenor, John McCormack, sang Panis Angelicus. The public address system used was the largest ever installed anywhere in the world up to that time. The Mass was followed by a procession of the Blessed Sacrament from the park to the city centre.
To retrieve a sense of what the 1932 International Eucharistic Congress meant in the Diocese of Meath, the research by Phil Tierney makes for compelling reading. Click here to read the article in full.
It is recorded that the Eucharistic procession in Mullingar was held on June 19th and was led by the Men's Confraternity and the Confraternity Band. They were followed by The Woman's Sodality of the Sacred Heart, The Pioneers, children from all the parish schools, priests and the Blessed Sacrament escorted by canopy bearers and a military Guard of Honour.
Trim, described in the Meath Chronicle as the “Ancient Capital” of the diocese was decorated in great style, every house had a flag and many had an altar or holy picture displayed. Pictures of St Patrick were a feature of many of the displays.. A special feature of the decorations was a display of Papal flags floating on the Boyne. A procession of the Blessed Sacrament led by Fr Thomas Donnellan was held and a large crowd took part.
Navan also displayed their faith by decorating every available surface with flowers, altar, bunting and flags. Even the railway stations were decorated for the week. The glorious weather gave rise to a saying - it is Congress weather. The Blessed Sacrament attracted a crowd of six thousand and was led by the CYMS band and Benediction was imparted by Fr. John Kilmartin on the Fairgreen. Such was the crowd taking part that when the head of the procession taking part reached the Fairgreen those at the end of the procession hadn’t started to move.
Kells too was decorated, every house robed with laurels, flags, national, Papal and Congress appeared on every Catholic house and scrolls bearing quotations form Sacred Scripture were strung across the roads at vital points. The Blessed Sacrament procession, held in bright sunshine, was led by Fr. Michael O’Farrell CC through the streets, and ended with Benediction at the Convent. The choir and St Colmcille’s Brass and Reed Band provided the music during the procession.
In Kingscourt the parish priest, Fr Stephen Kelly, led a Blessed Sacrament Procession through the streets of the town He was accompanied by a large number of priests from surrounding parishes in counties Cavan, Meath and Monaghan. About 5000 people led by the Brass Band and church choir took part.
A train left Mullingar at 6am on the Sunday morning for the Pontifical High Mass with 900 on board. A further 500 travelled from Kingscourt, 1200 from Athboy, 1500 from Navan, 510 from Oldcastle and 418 from Trim. Between rail and bus 1,200 travelled from Kells. The fare on a bus from Kilnaleck to Oldcastle was three shillings and the train fare from Oldcastle was five shillings and sixpence.
Phil Tierney's extensive research highlights some of the difficulties, even tragedies, encountered by pilgrims to the Congress. The most serious accident occurred at the Liffey Bridge in Leixlip. Two men died, both from Tullamore. Despite strict supervision of parents, teachers and stewards about forty children got lost in the exodus from the Park. The majority of them were brought to the Parkgate Garda Station where they were handed over to stewards and boy scouts, who took them to their homes and to different railway stations. On Monday evening one boy William McGibney aged fourteen from north Westmeath was still unclaimed.
Below is a gallery of photos from the 1932 International Eucharistic Congress