On 26th June 1932, one million people assembled in the Phoenix Park for the 31st Eucharistic Congress and among them was one Ballyshannon lady, Mary ‘Ciss’ McCauley.
The then 17-year-old made the journey to Dublin from the train station in Belleek along with young and old from all over Ireland and from overseas. With the 50th Eucharistic Congress set to return to Dublin next year, the still hale and hearty Ciss recalls vividly the excitement around the 1932 event.
She was then Mary ‘Ciss’ Lunny from just outside Belleek and she takes up the story.
“I was 17 years of age and my brother, John, who was 21 also came on the journey. We had a cousin, Margaret Slevin, who stayed in our house the night before. The train was leaving Belleek at 6 o’clock in the morning. Margaret was a teacher in Pettigo but came to stay with us to be close to the train for the journey.
“My mother had an early breakfast for us at 3 o’clock in the morning and we left at 4.30 to walk the two miles to Belleek to catch the train at six.” (There was no chance that they were going to miss it.)
“The train left from Bundoran and Margaret had friends on the train which she met up with at Belleek. We then travelled to Dublin and we arrived in Dublin about 12 o’clock midday. We were invited for lunch to a cousin’s house on the South Circular Road. All this had been arranged beforehand.
“The mode of traffic in the city at that time was trams with no buses. The streets were cobbled and there was a noise of these trams rattling over the cobble stones. We got on the tram and we were met by our cousin’s husband.
“We had our lunch there and we then started off on our journey to the Phoenix Park. We got so far on the tram but then we had to walk. I remember us stopping at the Wellington Monument. We stopped there and then proceeded on to the site of the Mass.
“I think it was the Papal Nuncio who said the Mass. Of course there were throngs and we couldn’t get anywhere near the altar.
“For me, the highlight of the day was the Benediction afterwards at O’Connell Bridge and the singing of Panus Angelicus by Count John McCormack.
“After that we left there and made our way back to the train which left Amiens Street at 12 o’clock that night. It was a long, slow journey down to Belleek. “We arrived in Belleek at 6 o’clock in the morning. It was a corridor train and I can remember people dancing up and down the corridor to pass the time. “We got to Belleek leg weary and started the journey home. John and I worked in the creamery. We had a breakfast and a wash at home and started back in to work at 8 o’clock. I can tell you we were tired; the manager was absent and we took a few naps during the day.
“I arrived back home at six o’clock after work that Monday evening. I took a quick bite to eat and went straight to bed and slept until eight o’clock the next morning.”
Ciss said Congress was the main topic of conversation for a full year beforehand and for a long time afterwards. “The priests had been talking about it and were urging everyone who could at all to make an effort to go and they came from everywhere with a lot of Americans present.”
Ciss said she had bought souvenirs on the day and was sorry that she didn’t keep them. She remembered that the train fare was around 10/ and felt “it was very, very cheap.”
Along with her brother, they had lunch with them and their cousins had made sandwiches for them for the return journey home. “I can tell you when we got home we were very, very hungry, “ said Ciss, who added that her parents were particulurly anxious to hear what had happened on the day. “I did enjoy the Benediction as I got fairly close to that. My mother always loved John McCormack so he was a hero in our house afterwards.
“The weather was good. It was a beautiful June day. But I can tell you I never walked so much in my life and I was never as tired.” S
he again mentioned the unique sound of the rattle of the trams on the cobbled steets and also the Communion at the Mass in the Phoenix Park with hundreds of priests going around. “There were no lay people doing that back then.”
Mary ‘Ciss’ Lunny married Jimmy McCauley eight years later in 1940 and moved to live in Lisahully. Like most young people at the time, she had left school at 14 and went to work in the Creamery in Belleek but then cycled to bookkeeping night classes in the Convent in Ballyshannon. She worked in the office in the Creamery until getting married, having to give up her job according to the regulations at the time. It is something she was not particularly happy about. Now 96 (on St. Patrick’s Day), she still possesses a very alert mind, keeping abreast with all the news - local, national and international. Her memories of the Eucharistic are of a very exciting time. “It was a wonderful occasion, “ she recalled.