Last time a pope visited Ireland, he didn’t stop by Sean McDermott Street in the north inner-city.
This time, Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Our Lady of Lourdes Church at midday up on the road on 25 August, as he makes his way to the Pro Cathedral.
Just over the street and behind the the Convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity is the site of Ireland’s last Magdalene laundry.
“It would be the height of insensitivity” for Pope Francis to be in the neighbourhood without acknowledging this site, says Social Democrats Councillor Gary Gannon.
“It’s very recent history,” Gannon says. “That laundry only closed in 1996, 18 years after Pope John Paul II visited.”
When Pope John Paul II visited Dublin in 1979, tenement flats were still rife throughout the inner-city, says Terry Fagan, a historian who runs the North Inner City Folklore Project.
“Nothing had changed in many ways,” Fagan says.
As the pontiff’s visit grew nearer, banners were hung from windows in the area. “We were led to believe he’d stop,” he says.
In the end, John Paul II did not visit Sean McDermott Street back then, he says. “But it was a great occasion.”
It means “a lot” to the local community that Pope Francis will stop on Sean McDermott Street after all this time, says Fr Hugh O’Donnell, assistant priest at Our Lady of Lourdes, “The symbolic gesture of him stopping in this parish and not in any other parish.”
O’Donnell says the pontiff is due to stop briefly outside Our Lady of Lourdes, bless the church, and change cars.
Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin suggested Pope Francis stop on Sean McDermott Street, says O’Donnell. “The Archbishop has always taken an interest in [the parish].”
O’Donnell says that if Pope Francis does not acknowledge the former laundry site on his stop off here, then “I think he’s going to do it somewhere else”.
“Naturally this is our concern, to have him meet with these people who are victims, who were victimised in institutions run under the auspices of the church,” says O’Donnell.
Dublin City Council owns the former laundry site, which is currently for sale.
Fagan says a delegation of victims of institutional abuse should meet Pope Francis during his visit. “It’s important that he meets people, that he hears first-hand accounts.”
Gannon, the Social Democrats councillor, says that if Pope Francis visits Sean McDermott Street and doesn’t acknowledge the “extent of the hardship done to an innumerable amount of women”, then it would be “an insult”.
A spokesperson for the council said it is “not aware of any intention of Pope Francis to visit the former Magdalene Laundry site on Sean McDermott street”.
“There isn’t much faith left in me,” says Gannon. “But to what remains, in good conscience, it would be an insult. An unnecessary insult.”