The race to get pressure on the first Irish papal visit

The head of Page one on the Print evening on September 29, 1979, the day that Pope John Paul II arrived here, "IT IS IRELAND GREATEST DAY". I remember this because I was there when it was agreed and put on the page.

"Céad Míle Fáilte to the Holy Father" was considered, as well as "Pauss visit makes Irish history", but both were rejected as too obvious.

As a production editor, I had to "get the sheet on the street", a daunting daily routine that never released its grip on a newspaper of crazy energy and expectation. Getting the paper on time was important, but propagating it to the opposition was of vital importance. Have the best coverage in our daily fight against the Evening Herald was necessary – but the best coverage in this case also required the best picture.

At the last planning meeting of the previous evening it had been made clear by editor-in-chief Sean Ward – a hard-news man who thrived on "covering all corners" – that this was a story-led story.

So on the morning itself it was a matter of all hands on deck at Burgh Quay when the papal flight near Dublin approached around noon and was discussed in a solemn tone on radio and television.

The depressing editorial room, always an exciting place, had acquired an international flavor as "observers" for foreign newspapers, attesting to the international aspect of the occasion.

The paper was almost completely prefabricated the night before (along with pre-written stories) with a huge space for a picture of the Holy Father kissing the asphalt at Dublin Airport, his usual arrival procedure. This would be the very first photo of a pope on the holy soil of Ireland. We had to have it and we had to have it first.

And so I placed myself on that cool autumn Saturday morning with Dublin everywhere in confinement and cordons for the big, noisy cat flap between the wire room and the main article that would bring the papal picture – hopefully without a hitch.

Everything else was done the previous night or early morning. The main story was already in place, written the day before by Michael O & # 39; Toole. It began: "Pope John Paul II has taken 24 slow steps in Irish history today." Michael told me that afterwards he had personally counted the steps on the Aer Lingus St Patrick to be sure.

All we needed was only one photo, so what could go wrong? In those distant days it was difficult to get a photo to Burgh Quay or anywhere else, even from Dublin Airport. Nowadays, even for a child on an iPhone, this would be a digital pram, but in 1979 it was an accident that still had to happen, even for seasoned professionals.

To begin with, the security of the airport was so tight that the entire army of photographers – mostly prominent positions assigned for large occasions – were crushed in the back of the viewer to make room in front of the even larger army of dignitaries, political and religious. For the snappers this required images with a long lens while the pope descended from above.

After he came down to the kind of cheers that greeted the first man on the moon, our photographer dutifully clicked away as quickly as possible, removed the film roll from his camera under cover of his jacket and placed it in a plastic container where it was put on a tangle of rope hoisted and fanned over the wall of the tribune to a waiting colleague downstairs, who then gave it to another photographer in an improvised tent-cum-dark room to develop. Then it was connected to Burgh Quay.

At Burgh Quay, the whole staff, just like myself, were anxious to stare at the cat flap, because the word from the wire room was that the transmission was dodgy and the processing would be slower than usual. It seemed a century before the photo finally slipped out of the flap – but a flop. Pope John Paul was in order, but not visible to the human eye. When he stooped to kiss the asphalt, a gust of wind blew his cape over his head and covered his face and head completely.

With the circulation manager who chewed his nails even faster than normal, another image was needed immediately. This took another five minutes to process, but again the image quality was disappointing. It looked dark and shadowy as if the evening had suddenly descended into Collinstown at noon. And worse, it was the wrong form for the waiting hole on the front page.

So what can we do differently than pronounce the immortal words "It will have to do". "But even that was not the end." The photograph was then sent to the lithographic department for further processing to be etched on a metal plate, a process of unbearable inertia.

And then followed a whole series of other processes, now all encapsulated by two words – old technology & # 39 ;.

So we won the race with the Herald? A sad story that. In reality there was no race at all. The Herald opted out of the glory rings and instead went for a full-color pre-print glossy wrapper of the Pope in full canonical regalia – probably a year earlier in the Vatican. They hit the road as soon as the plane landed and led the circulation race from start to finish.

In retrospect, it was all rather unsportsmanlike Heraldsuch as giving up a line-out at rugby. But the Print evening has reached its goal of ever carrying the first photo of a pope in Ireland. It was not great, but it was historic. And we never trusted it Herald again after that. We never did that. Dick O & # 39; Riordan is a former production editor and later editor of the Print evening

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