Pope’s visit to Ireland: everything you need to know

Why is he visiting? Where will he stay? and more questions answered

Pope Francis is expected to draw significantly smaller crowds than the last papal trip to Ireland by John Paul II nearly 40 years ago. Ireland has changed utterly since those days, but the imminent visit from the leader of the world's 1.3 billion Catholics will still be the biggest gathering the country has seen in decades. So, what do we know about it ?

Pope Francis? Tell me about him again…

Since the white smoke announced the 266th leader of the Catholic Church in 2013, Pope Francis - given name Jorge Mario Bergoglio - has enjoyed high popularity ratings worldwide, driven by his humble style, common touch and emphasis on compassion and social justice.

The one-time nightclub bouncer in his native Buenos Aires is widely seen as a reformer and moderniser within the church. But this approach grates with traditionalists, while liberals object to his orthodoxy on other matters including sex. He is the first South American and Jesuit to become pope. He was born on December 17th, 1936, making him 81 years of age.

So, when is he coming to Ireland?

Pope Francis will touch down at Dublin Airport at 10:30am on Saturday, August 25th. He will be greeted by clergy and representatives of the Government. It remains to be seen whether he will replicate the famous gesture of Pope John Paul II, at the start of the last papal visit almost nearly four decades ago, by kissing the Irish ground as he gets off the plane. Bookies are offering narrow odds on the chances.


Where’s he going and when?

First up, a trip to Áras an Úachtaráin to meet President Michael D Higgins. There will be a welcome ceremony at the main gate to the Áras, beside the Phoenix Monument on Chesterfield Avenue, in the Phoenix Park. The pontiff will spend about half an hour with President Higgins, his wife Sabina - and, no doubt, the first dogs, Bród and Sioda. The Pope will sign a visitors' book then have a private meeting with the President. There are also plans for the pontiff to plant a tree in the grounds of the Áras.

Where next?

Then, it is over to Dublin Castle where the Pope will meet Taoiseach Leo Varadkar as well as church leaders, the Council of State, Government MEPs, Northern Ireland political party leaders and some members of the judiciary. This will be where the first of his three planned speeches during the two-day trip will be given. After that, he will cross the Liffey again to see St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral before making a private visit to the Capuchin Fathers day centre for homeless families on Arran Quay. Here, he will meet 80 people who are homeless. Then, the first major event of the trip - the Pope will give an address to the Festival of Families extravaganza at Croke Park.

What’s the Festival of Families?

It's a Catholic church celebration of the role of the family, held in cities around the world every three years. Around 70,000 people are expected at a two-hour Croke Park concert, which has a star-studded line-up including Italian tenor Andrew Botcelli, Daniel O'Donnell, Nathan Carter, Paddy Moloney, Riverdance, Dana Masters, Celine Byrne, Moya Brennan, The Begley Family and The Priests. None quite as famous though as God's representative on Earth: the Pope's speech on Saturday evening is billed as the highlight.

Sunday will be a day of the rest then?

Not a bit. The second day is just as hectic. After breakfast, Pope Francis will fly from Dublin to Knock where 45,000 devotees are expected to endure long walks and no seating to catch a glimpse of him at the Chapel of Knock Shrine, where he will lead the Angelus. Knock is under a de-facto shutdown from Saturday evening in advance of the one-hour appearance. No-one other than residents can stay in the Co Mayo village overnight. The main N17 road between Charlestown and Claremorris will close from midnight until at at least 3pm on Sunday. Security will be tight at the airport. Organisers say those travelling for the event should prepare for a lot of walking, a lot of waiting and a lot of standing. There will be designated "rest zones" as well as food and drink stations. You can bring a portable seat.

This is a punishing schedule for the 81-year-old Pope…

And, he won't be finished there. After Knock, he will fly back to Dublin to have "a modest lunch with his immediate delegation" at his residence while here, says the Catholic Church. Then it is on to the Phoenix Park again, where in the footsteps of Pope John Paul II, he will be the chief celebrant in a special 3pm Mass at the site of the Papal Cross. Half a million people are expected. Like Knock, there will be "rest zones" as well as food and drink stations. More than 1,000 doctors, nurses and paramedics will be stationed at 1.5 km intervals on all routes to the Papal Cross.  The Phoenix Park in its entirety will be closed from Friday evening to late Monday. Everyone will be listening out for the Homily of the Holy Father. Afterwards, the Pope will meet the Irish Bishops at the Convent of the Domincan Sisters in Cabra. Here, he will deliver the last of his prepared speeches, before flying back to Rome amid a farewell ceremony at the airport. The Pope's full itinerary can be viewed on the website of the World Meeting of Families.

His residence while here, you say?

The Catholic Church said it would not disclose where Pope Francis is staying "for security reasons at the request of Vatican Security and the gardaí." Farmleigh House is the State's official guest house for visiting heads of State and dignitaries, but it is understood the Pope will not be staying here.

Can we take it there will be transport disruption in Dublin?

Dubliners have been strongly advised to leave the car at home this weekend and use public transport as dozens of roads are closed for the duration of the Pope's visit. We've gathered all the information you'll need on where you can and cannot drive this weekend, along with all public transport options available for those hoping to go about their daily business. All the traffic details are here.

Any special transport arrangements?

Every bus, tram and train available is being called upon for what gardaí say is the biggest event organised in Ireland since the last Papal visit in 1979 (Here's a selection of pictures from that Pope visit in 1979). Those with tickets for any of the Pope's events will be allowed travel free on public transport in Dublin on the day of the event. Iarnród Éireann, Dublin Bus, Luas, Bus Éireann, Go-Ahead and Translink in the North are all operating special services. "Papal transport hubs" are being set up close to Phoenix Park gates where buses will leave and collect passengers. Park and ride hubs are being set up at Leopardstown Racecourse (Luas), UCD Belfield (Dublin Bus), Maynooth University (train) and Fairyhouse Racecourse (train). Rail chiefs have said advance booking is mandatory. Gardai have provided some helpful maps for Phoenix Park and Knock parts of the visit.

Heavens above: What will the weather be like?

Met Éireann is forecasting changeable weather for the weekend and the outlook is for "fresher and cooler" conditions with highs of just 14 to 17  degrees. While it is expected to stay drier on Saturday, Sunday is forecast to be wet for both of the main events in Knock and the Phoenix Park.

Check our five-day forecast for the visit here.

Mmmmh … we might just watch it on the TV or follow it online. Can we do that?

RTÉ will broadcast coverage throughout the weekend. On RTÉ One there will be live rolling coverage of all the public events, while live coverage of The Festival of Families event on Saturday will be broadcast on RTÉ2. The broadcaster said it will announce specific schedule details in the coming weeks.

Also The Irish Times will be running full live coverage of the events throughout the visit. We are not alone; there are 1,200 media accredited for the event from around the world, including from the US, Europe, Venezuela, Brazil and Costa Rica. If you choose to sit it out at home, you will not be stuck.

Why is he visiting here now?

Ostensibly, he’s coming for the World Meeting of Families festival. It was set up on the orders of Pope John Paul II in 1994, and the incumbent pontiff usually celebrates a Mass at the event. While it is not an official State visit, many in the Catholic Church will be hoping it can help heal some of the wounds caused in Ireland by the countless clerical sex abuse scandals of recent years.

Will he meet with abuse survivors?

He will, though details of when and whom he will meet will not be released in advance to protect the anonymity of survivors, according to this newspaper’s Religious Affairs correspondent Patsy McGarry. Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Dr Diarmuid Martin has said he was pushing the Vatican to have the Pope meet a cross-section of survivors of industrial schools, Magdalene laundries, mother and baby homes and those who suffered from clerical sex abuse. Pope Francis met survivors of abuse in other countries. The details of the meetings are announced afterwards.

And can we expect any protests?

A “solidarity event” for those hurt or abused by the Catholic Church is being organised for Dublin’s Garden of Remembrance to coincide with the papal Mass in the Phoenix Park. Remember, that’s 3pm on Sunday, August 26th. Abuse survivor Colm O’Gorman, founder of the One in Four group, which assists other victims, said “we cannot and will not allow this visit to simply disappear those who have suffered. This event will be a moment to assert and respect the dignity of those who have been abused, and to stand in solidarity with them. To mark an end to the Ireland that allowed this to happen.” The Coalition of Mother and Baby Home Survivors are planning to protest.

Will there be the same turnout for the Pope this time around?

That would be a miracle. Ireland is a dramatically changed country since the late 1970s, when it was illegal to be gay, divorce was outlawed and proposals to legislate for abortion would have seemed far-fetched. The Catholic church has been badly damaged since then by its sex abuse cover-ups against the backdrop of a general social shift towards more liberal values.

Church attendances and priest numbers are dwindling. On September 29th 1979, the first day of the Pope John Paul II visit, more than a million people gathered for the papal Mass in Phoenix Park - about a third of the population at the time. It is believed to be the largest gathering of Irish people in history. This time around there will be less than half that number - about a tenth of the population. But it will still be the biggest gathering in the country since the last papal visit.

Remember the Popemobile from the last time - will there be one this time?

There will be two this time. One for Dublin and one for Knock. They are being shipped to Ireland from the Vatican.

The Pope will travel through the capital on Saturday afternoon at about 4.15pm and the tour is expected to draw 100,000 onlookers. The popemobile entourage will go south on O'Connell Street, across O'Connell Bridge, up Westmoreland Street and continue up Dame Street. The motorcade will then pass Christchurch Cathedral, go down Bridge Street and across the Liffey onto Church Street to the Capuchin Centre where Pope Francis will have a private meeting with homeless families. He will also do a popemobile drive around Phoenix Park for half an hour before the Mass begins on Sunday. Apart from that, he will "mostly travel in a closed car", a specially adapted Skoda Rapid with custom plates.

Will the Pope be speaking in English?

Pope Francis travels with his own translator and is expected to speak mostly in Italian during his visit to Ireland. Organisers say he may go off script but they are not aware of any plans at this stage for a cúpla focail as gaeilge ón bPapa Pronsias.

And what is his airplane like?

The Pope doesn't have a private plane. As is tradition, he will charter one from Italian airline Alitalia to fly into Ireland. The Alitalia aircraft is referred to as "Shepherd One" - a papal version of Air Force One - but it can be a different aircraft each time, which then returns to normal use. He does have his own flight number though - AZ4000. He usually has a seat or two in business class, while reporters travelling with the entourage sit in economy.

The Pope usually takes the host nation's flag carrier back to Rome and therefore will fly Aer Lingus home. He willalso fly Aer Lingus between Dublin and Knock.

Anything else we need to know?

Yes - get vaccinated if you're going to one of the big events. The HSE's Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) has warned large gatherings like this pose "unique health risks" particularly for young children and the elderly. Given the ongoing measles spread in Europe, it says it is "highly advisable" that all those travelling to see the pope ensure they are up to date with their vaccinations.