By Sarah Mac Donald - 01 May, 2018
New sculpture marks Polish Pontiff's final Mass in Ireland at Limerick Racecourse 39 years ago, which was attended by 400,000 people, the largest ever gathering of people for any event in Limerick.
The Mayor of Limerick, Cllr Stephen Keary, joined the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo and Bishop Brendan Leahy on Monday at the unveiling of a new memorial to Pope St John Paul II.
The memorial, which is located on Bishop’s Quay overlooking the Shannon, was conceived of during Limerick’s 2014 City of Culture and the plaque was designed by Limerick sculptor Cliodna Cussen.
Over 200 people turned out to see the commemorative work unveiled which contains a likeness of Pope St John Paul II making his signature salute.
It marks Pope John Paul II’s visit to Limerick 39 years ago 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.
The Mass at Limerick Racecourse at Greenmount was attended by 400,000 people, the largest ever gathering of people for any event in Limerick.
Speaking at Monday’s launch, Mayor of Limerick, Cllr Stephen Keary, said the visit of Pope John Paul II stood out 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,” Cllr Keary said.
“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,” the Mayor highlighted.
However, he acknowledged that regrettably Pope Francis would not be coming to Limerick but added, “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.”
On Monday, Bishop Brendan Leahy of Limerick said he thought Pope St 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.”
Dr Leahy said he was sure the Polish saint was “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.”
He added that since coming to Limerick five years ago, many had shared with him 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.”
The then mayor, the late Bobby Byrne, described Pope John Paul II’s visit as “part of the treasured history of the City.”