Papal Visit 1979


The visit of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Galway on the 30th September 1979 is one of the most memorable moments in the history of Galway and indeed the Galway Racecourse in Ballybrit.

It is estimated that 280,000 people flocked to Ballybrit to enjoy the papal visit. There were 77 concelebrants, 200,000 communicants with 800 priests distributing communion and 4,000 stewards.

There was a great air of expectation, excitement and calm amongst the 280,000 crowd awaiting the arrival on the papal helicopter. Flocks of people thronged to the racecourse with layers of clothes on, backpacks, plastic bags of food and flasks.

There were lots of people on the side of the road selling stools, large umbrellas and flags of all sizes.

The organisation and stewarding was superb as the stewards directed the people to their allocated “Corral”. Father Michael Cleary and Bishop Eamonn were a terrific double act, entertaining the huge crowd and getting them going. Never was “By the Rivers of Babylon” sung with such gusto, or by so many.

As the papal helicopter hovered overhead, the crowds waved excitedly. Children up on adults’ shoulders, flags waving, banners from every parish in the country, cheering. The intense excitement was eventually replaced by a spiritual calm as the mass got underway.

In his homily Pope John II said:

  • “This morning the Pope belongs to the Youth of Ireland”.
  • “I believe in youth. I believe in youth with all my heart and strength of my conviction, and today I say: I believe in the Youth of Ireland”
  • “You carry in your hearts the treasures which Irish history and culture have given you, but you also share in the problems that Ireland faces”
  • “On returning home, tell your parents and everyone who wants to listen, that the Pope believes in you and that he counts on you”.
  • “Young people of Ireland, I love you”.

papal22005 saw the 25th anniversary of the papal visit to Galway and a special anniversary mass was held at the Galway Racecourse where 5,000 people attended. The archbishop of Tuam, Dr. Michael Neary was chief concelebrant and the Papal Nuncio, Giuseppe Lazzarotto along with Bishops and priests of the Western province took part in the Celebration. The Papal Nuncio Giuseppe Lazzarotto blessed the statue of Pope John Paul II which was commissioned by Galway Race Committee and erected in the racecourse enclosure to celebrate the Pope’s visit to Galway.

This picture was taken in 1979 on the occasion of the visit of Pope John Paul II to Galway Racecourse. Back Row Mr. T.I Naughton (Member of Galway Race Committee), Mr. Anthony Ryan, Lady Killanin Front Row Mr. P.D Ryan (Former Chairman of Galway Race Committee), Lord Hemphill (Former Chairman of Galway Race Committee), and Lord Killanin.

Pope John Paul II – R.I.P (2nd April, 2005).

Canonization of Blessed John Paul II took place on Sunday 27th April 2014.