As Joan FitzPatrick Dean has written in the entertaining All Dressed Up: Modern Irish Historical Pageantry:
The largest and most memorable public spectacle in twentieth century Ireland was the Eucharistic Congress held in Dublin in 1932. In good weather over five days, June 22-26 1932, “the congress demonstrated that the Irish Free State was, to all intents and purposes, a Catholic state. There was a definite air of Catholic triumphalism about the Congress.”
Dermot Keogh describes the event in his history of Irish and Vatican relations as a “showpiece of Global Catholicism”, and quotes one contemporary French newspaper, amazed by the reception afforded to the Vatican offificals:
From Dun Laoghaire Harbour to the Pro-Cathedral, a distance of ten kilometers, there was an unbroken mass of people, compact, deep, on both sides of the route. In the city the pavements and the squares were completely covered by the multitude. Nor are to be forgotten the bouquets of heads in all the windows, and the daring spectators seated on the roofs of the houses.
One participant in it all wrote joyously to the Irish Independent of how events in Dublin were the an thesis of the menace of the “Bolshies”, and that “the Soviet Government’s aim is to wipe clean out everything we in Ireland hold dear…those of us who took part in the glorious Eucharistic Congress may feel secure from the curse of the Soviet.”
One of the remarkable things about the Congress was the lavish decoration of the city. Tenement slums were decorated in Papal colours, while a temporary round tower found a home on College Green. Standing in the footprint of the recently-departed King William of Orange statue, it left a real impression on visitors:
The Irish Times wrote that “Messrs. Watson of Killiney” produced the round tower, and that “no visitor, let alone a Dubliner, can readily miss this, as it stands some 45 feet high, on the site formerly occupied by the King William statue.” William’s statue had been subject to many attacks, in fact one publication went as far as to say “It has been insulted, mutilated and blown up so many times, that the original figure, never particularly graceful, is now a battered wreck, pieced and patched together, like an old, worn out garment.” An explosion in November 1929 led to its removal from College Green, where it had stood since 1701.
The structure was only ever intended as a temporary one. As Norman Vance has written, “Post-independence Catholic triumphalism encouraged the identification of ancient Ireland with Catholic Ireland.” So, was it “vulgar tourist kitsch” or something of artistic merit? Regardless, it is certainly difficult to picture it today, sitting halfway between the waxworks on one side and Abercrombie and Fitch on the other!