Limerick took a special moment and place today to remember its most popular ever visitor as a memorial was unveiled to Pope Saint John Paul II.
The county and city’s first citizen, Mayor Stephen Keary; Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy and Papal Nuncio to Ireland Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo led the formalities, as over 200 people turned out at Bishop’s Quay in the city centre as the memorial, with a likeness of Pope Saint John Paul II making his signature salute embedded, was revealed.
The idea for the memorial, which stands on the quay overlooking the river Shannon, was conceived during the 2014 City of Culture year and the plaque was designed by Limerick artist and sculpture Cliodna Cussen. It is a reminder of that historic event 39 years ago when the first Pope ever to visit Ireland arrived in Limerick to say his final Mass before leaving Ireland. It also recalls his dedication as a Freeman of Limerick by then Mayor, the late Bobby Byrne.
Held at Limerick Racecourse at Greenmount, the attendance that wet Monday morning was all of 400,000 people, the largest ever gathering of people for any event in Limerick and a gathering that is not likely to be surpassed.
Speaking at today’s launch, Mayor of Limerick City and County, Cllr Stephen Keary, said the visit of Pope John Paul II has stood out, he said, as one of the greatest moments in Limerick’s history. “In his opening comments in his homily, the Pope uttered special words in our native tongue ‘A phobail dhílis na Mumhan’ – special people of Munster. He was regularly praised for having an innate ability to connect and in that moment, he connected with everyone from the Munster region.
“It’s only right that we would celebrate his visit. There was never anything like it before and will never be anything like again in this city most likely. The fact that we are doing the unveiling this year is timely given that we have the second ever visit to Ireland of a Pope in August. Regrettably, he’s not coming to Limerick but I suspect that a very large number of Limerick people will go to see him.
“Another reason for us to have this memorial is the very positive impact that Polish people have made on Limerick. There are an estimated 10,000 Polish people living here and it is, in a way, a dedication to them also that we would have a memorial to mark the visit here of their most famous ever countryman.”
Said Bishop Leahy: “I think Pope Saint John Paul would be pleased that we are launching this memorial in the year when Ireland will be hosting the World Meeting of Families and when one of his successors, Pope Francis will be visiting Ireland. He said that ‘the future of the Church and the future of humanity depend in great part on parents and on the family life that they build in their homes’. My wish is that all who visit this memorial will draw inspiration from the figure of this great Pope and his words.
“I’m sure Pope Saint John Paul II is looking today with a particular fondness and tenderness on this Treaty City which he visited in October 1979. His heart is beating in a special way as he knows how many remember him with great affection in Limerick City and County. Since coming to Limerick five years ago, many have share with me anecdotes and fond memories linked to the day they made it Greenpark Racecourse to see the Pope; it was one of the great moment of their lives, one they will never forget.
“He was conferred with the freedom of the city by the then mayor, the late Bobby Byrne, on October 1st, 1979 and, as the late Mayor put it, John Paul II’s visit is ‘part of the treasured history of the City’.”