With speculation rife about Pope Francis visiting Ireland in three years time, this is the story of how one family hosted 300,000 people at their home during the Pope’s visit to Drogheda in 1979…
In the summer of 1979 Ireland was consumed with industrial strikes; frisbees and roller-discos; escalating violence in Northern Ireland and - of course - preparations for a very special visitor to the country – Pope John Paul II.
The Pope would visit the Phoenix Park, Knock, Galway, Limerick and the Diocese of Armagh.
Farmer Terry Grant in the rural area of Killineer just north of Drogheda had other things on his mind. The poisonous weed ragwort had attacked his field and he needed to get rid of it fast and at great expense.
Over the border, the clergy fretted about the safety of bringing the Pope to Northern Ireland. Margaret Thatcher was not enthusiastic about the prospect of a visit to the north. Then at the end of August the deadliest attack on the British Army of the Troubles – 18 British soldiers were blown up in two booby-trap explosions near Warrenpoint, close to the border. Hours later Lord Louis Mountbatten was killed while fishing at Mullaghmore in County Sligo.
It was felt it was too risky to let the Pope visit the north. A new venue would need to be found – and quick.
As the clergy drove around the Diocese, south of the border, one particular field caught their eyes. Cleared of the yellow ragwort, Terry Grant’s field was looking pristine and Terry got a knock on the door from Bishop Lennon who wanted to talk to him ‘on a matter of international secrecy’.
Produced by Nicoline Greer
First Broadcast, RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday October 10th 2015 @ 2pm
An Irish radio documentary from RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland - Documentary on One - the home of Irish radio documentaries