A new exhibition which chronicles the preparations for the Visit of Pope John Paul II to the Phoenix Park in 1979 will be launched by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin in the Phoenix Park Visitor Centre on Wednesday the 1st of August at 11am.  The exhibition will also include a specially commissioned 15 minute film featuring some of those who worked on the Papal visit, including Neil Scott, the last remaining partner of architect firm Scott Tallon Walker who designed the outdoor cathedral.

The exhibition looks at the how the largest ever public event in the country, attended by over a million people, was organised and staged in a ten week period in 1979. It illustrates the collaboration and organisation that made the event such a success and also illustrates the main elements of the design of this outdoor cathedral, including the iconic Papal Cross, the Dais, Altar, Canopies and Banners. The centre piece of the exhibition is the original papal chair made by the cabinet making staff in the Furniture Division of the Office of Public Works (OPW) from a fallen oak tree in the Phoenix Park. This historic piece of furniture has recently been restored by OPW craftsmen. The exhibition also looks at logistical issues from security and transport arrangements, including the building of a helicopter landing pad, to how the immense interest of the international media was facilitated.

The exhibition provides a fascinating insight into how architects Scott Tallon Walker designed and constructed an outdoor cathedral for 1 million people so that everyone had a view of the altar marked by the iconic Papal Cross.  Indeed, the original Scott Tallon Walker model of the layout, on loan from the Irish Architectural Archive, is displayed as part of the exhibition. The cross itself was designed by engineers Ove, Arup and Partners and manufactured in Inchicore and according to the recollections of those involved, the most challenging part of the project was transporting the cross at 116 feet high to the Park, across the Liffey, and into the Park. Artist Patrick Scott was commissioned to design 60 white and gold papal banners that formed the backdrop to the overall setting of the Papal Mass. Patrick Scott’s estate has very kindly given the OPW one of these original 33 feet high banners which will also be on display as part of the exhibition.

Speaking about the exhibition Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said, “With the advanced preparations for the upcoming visit of Pope Francis, it’s great to have the opportunity to reflect on the previous papal visit and the organisational skills required for the largest event ever held in Ireland. I encourage the many people coming to the Phoenix Park to visit this wonderful exhibition and the recorded memories of some of those wonderful people who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure the success of the 1979 Papal Mass. I look forward to reading the reflections in the memory books from members of the public who will come to view the exhibition over the next couple of months.

Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran, Minister for the Office of Public Works and Flood Relief said, “It’s hard to imagine now as we prepare for the arrival of His Holiness Pope Francis this month, that the site chosen in the Phoenix Park for the 1979 visit by Pope John Paul II had no services-no drains, no water supply, no electricity or telephone lines. This exhibition highlights the extraordinary feat of collaboration achieved without the aid of computers, mobile phones, email, digital photography and all the other technological innovations that we have come to rely on in the 21st century.  In my experience everyone has a story to tell about “the day the Pope came to Ireland” and this exhibition will bring us all back to this unique day in Irish public life.


For further information, please contact OPW Client Services & Communications Unit at 086 851 8936 or opwcsc@opw.ie

High-quality photos images will be available after the event from Julien Behal julienbehalphotography@gmail.com

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Event: 29TH September 1979: Preparations for the Papal Mass in the Phoenix Park

Location: Visitor Centre, Phoenix Park

Dates:  2nd August – 30th September 2018

Times: 10am – 4pm every day

Admission:  FREE