The walls of the church and parish centre in Balally in Dublin have become a shrine to remember the victims of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The red brick walls of the Church of the Ascension of the Lord are decorated with over 2,000 palm white crosses.

The layout is not modular, though it is spectacular.

The crosses stretch high along the cylindrical walls of the church and parish centre, each one placed randomly from the ground to as high as the vertical limits of the buildings permit and their white colour stands in relief to the red façade.

Kay and Patrick Hand working together on putting up the crosses
Patrick Hand puts up crosses on the Church of the Ascension

"They’re small little white crosses. These would have been what we would have used on Palm Sunday but Palm Sunday was closed down," said parish priest Fr Peter Byrne.

"Because, each cross represents this grief - these ripples of grief that go through communities and go through families. I think we will need time to understand what this has meant."

"First we called it 'The Wall of a Thousand Crosses and a Million Tears’ to highlight that this was a place of grief. But it is gone to over 2,000 now."

Parish priest Fr Peter Byrne

The crosses are a tribute to lives lost during the Covid-19 pandemic both in the Republic and in Northern Ireland.

"This highlights for us that this amount of people have lost their lives," said Fr Byrne.

"This amount of families have been in grief. It is not just one or two, but this enormous grief that is around us. It puts things in perspective for us all."

He explained that he started hanging the crosses when the virus claimed its first victim.

"At the start of the pandemic we were talking amongst ourselves and thinking of how we come to grips with the fact that people were going to die.

"We decided that we would start off by putting a cross on the wall for each person. At the start it was just a few but it is growing into this enormous wall of crosses," he said.

A local man stops by to pray

As Fr Byrne speaks, a trickle of passers-by sit stop to pray, reflect and contemplate. Some take a few moments and sit on foldout chairs. Others wait in their cars. Most approach the walls quickly and walk away again.

Alvaro Lopez, originally from Spain, stops to pray for his uncle who recently died.

Alvaro Lopez lost his uncle to Covid-19 in Spain

He said the wall of crosses is "very powerful and is very impressive".

"I have never seen as many crosses at the same time stuck on walls. I think it is a way to realise that many people are suffering. Many people are dying.

"I think it is a good opportunity to pray for all these people. For example, my uncle in Spain passed away two weeks ago. This situation is very tough for everyone," Mr Lopez said.

 "We have put up as many as 70 or 80 crosses in a day. Please God we will get down to zero pretty soon and we can go back to normal."

As passers-by sit still, hymns and prayers are piped from a speaker above. The eucharist is displayed in an elaborate monstrance in the window of a corridor facing them. The corridor connects the church to the parish centre.

Husband and wife team Kay and Patrick Hand

Parishioners Kay and Patrick Hand have taken over hanging additional crosses every day from Fr Byrne.

The morning after numbers of fatalities from the virus are released by the Department of Health they climb ladders to find space to stick and place new crosses on the church’s walls.

"We come every day and we put up the crosses for the people who have died. We also look around and replace any crosses that have fallen down or blown away," said Ms Hand.

Kay Hand puts up crosses every day

"We have put up as many as 70 or 80 crosses in a day. Please God we will get down to zero pretty soon and we can go back to normal," says Mr Hand.

Every evening candles are lit and prayers said in the church to remember those who have died.

"We put the cross on the wall and then we light the candle each night for everyone who has died. There was one night we couldn't fit the candles in front of the altar because we were nearing 100 deaths in a single day," said Fr Byrne.

"It’s a very strange feeling that we can’t see the enemy and people die here and there. But where do we as a community see it all? We can see it all here perhaps just by the cross that goes up for each person," he added.

As the numbers of people dying decreases daily, Fr Byrne is looking forward to when he will not need to hang up another cross.

"I really do. I think the whole nation is looking forward to the day where at six o'clock they've nothing to say," he says, referring to RTÉ News reporting daily numbers of deaths and infections on its main television bulletin.

"Because, each cross represents this grief - these ripples of grief that go through communities and go through families. I think we will need time to understand what this has meant."

At the start of the project Fr Byrne used all of his Palm Sunday crosses quicker than expected. Many more were borrowed from other parishes.

"We just had a 100 crosses to start. Now we have just a 100 left. Hopefully we won’t have to use those crosses," he said.