It was the biggest celebration of its kind ever seen in Ireland. Literally hundreds of thousands of people across the country held services to mark the start of the 1932 Eucharistic Congress and multitudes flocked to Dublin from around the world to join in the celebrations.
While the current Eucharistic Congress may not be attracting as big a crowd there can be no denying that the 1932 Congress was a phenomenal success. Newspaper coverage of the event began months before the actual event and the staff of our County Library in Ballinamore have compiled a unique exhibition showcasing some of the stories, events and even more humorous recollections from the 1932 Congress.
Emphasising the international appeal, one story outlines how the faithful in America hired ocean liners to bring thousands of people to Dublin - using these liners as ‘floating hotels’ for the duration of their visit! In fact people travelled from as far away as America, Australia and New Zealand for the event - no mean feat in the days before the popular use of aviation.
To mark the occasion special Congress Badges were minted - blue enamel and gold gilt for adults and blue enamel and silver gilt for children. The little badges were based on the design of the Cross of Cong and were sold in their thousands. The exhibition has not only included advertisements of their sale in 1931 and 1932 but also warnings about buying a genuine badge - apparently there were characters trying to make money creating counterfeit copies!
Such was the importance of the Congress that local elections, due to be held in Ireland in June 1932 were postponed for a year to leave room for people to travel to the Congress.
In an article published in the Leitrim Observer on April 16, 1932 recording the postponement, a rather jaded journalist notes “We were [prior to the postponement] promised a very lively election period in Leitrim and candidates in many divisions were already throwing out feelers, and of course, “reluctantly” allowing their names to go forward.
“They will now have to possess their souls in patience until 1933 and in the meantime the sitting members, who are quite unperturbed as to contests, have another year of office and ample time to prepare their election address”.
The Congress also promised a windfall for agriculture with estimates in the Leitrim Observer in November 1930 suggesting that 2,500 cattle and 1,250 sheep would be needed to feed the crowds expected at the congress.
The residents of Dublin were also called on to open their homes to the thousands travelling up for the Congress with many making the journey forced to sleep in tents in parks such was the demand for a bed!
Locally there were plenty of celebrations marking the Congress. One article advertises a “procession of the Catholics of Kiltoghert Parish” planned for Sunday, June 19, 1932 in which the men and boys, women and girls, marched separately.
The faithful were called to take part and “show by their demeanour and outward manifestation of Faith on that day of days, that the honour of God and glory of Erin are not empty phrases in this country of ours”. An eloquent appeal if there ever was one.
The Eucharistic Congress also became the grounds for appeal for a man found guilty of stealing a pair of trousers from a Longford Shop in June 1932. In his appeal for leniency, the man asked the judge not to sentence him to three months hard labour as he was “expected to meet a brother and sister from America at the Eucharistic Congress”.
A mystery to be solved
One of the most intriguing parts of the exhibition however, is the photo of an elderly couple standing peering over the half door of their cottage. The photo is captioned “Eucharistic Congress decoration at Cloone, Co Leitrim” and staff at the County Library are keen to find out the names of those pictured.
As part of the exhibition a general appeal has been made to identify the couple and hopefully someone from Cloone or the surrounding areas may recognise the image taken 80 years ago.
But really there is so much more to see in this very special exhibition with everything from copies of the coverage given in the national press to the return of the so called ‘Baron of Broadway’, John J Hanley, New York, to visit friends in Carrick-on-Shannon.
The exhibition is on display in Ballinamore for the next few weeks so why drop in and see just how phenomenal the 1932 Eucharistic Congress actually was.