We Don't Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland by Fintan O'Toole:
A month before the pope’s visit, on 7 August 1979, the IRA had what it would always regard as its best day. At Mullaghmore, on the Sligo coast, it murdered a seventy-nine-year-old man, a fourteen-year-old schoolboy, a fifteen-year-old schoolboy and an eighty-three-year-old woman. The ground for these executions (the word the IRA itself used) was that the old man, Louis Mountbatten, was a cousin of Queen Elizabeth. Later that day, at Warrenpoint, the IRA set off two massive 800-pound bombs, the first killing six British soldiers, the second killing a dozen more. Most of the dead were from the hated Parachute Regiment, which had inflicted the equally murderous violence of Bloody Sunday in Derry. The graffiti declared the triumph of revenge: ‘Thirteen dead but not forgotten / We got 18 and Mountbatten.’ They did not mention the schoolboys or the old woman.
John Paul’s Mass outside Drogheda was in reality a substitute. It had become clear that he could not, as he had hoped, visit Armagh, the ancient capital of the Irish Church, because it was in Northern Ireland and the occasion might be incendiary. Drogheda was as near as he could get, and Catholics from the North came in huge numbers to be part of the celebration of their religious identity. This, too, created an illusion of unity–all Irish Catholics together. Contemporary reports brushed over the trouble on the night before the papal Mass. Gardaí had to threaten force to remove ‘Northerners’ from the site of the planned event. The pilgrims from over the Border managed to get caravans onto the papal site and park in the aisles leading to the altar. Extra Gardaí had to be called in to deal with the situation, which ‘became ugly at times when the Northerners refused to move. But after some persuasion, including threatened use of batons, the Gardaí succeeded in clearing the site with the help of some tow trucks’.
In his homily the next day, John Paul made a dramatic intervention in the Troubles, effectively using all of his authority and charisma to try to get the IRA to stop its campaign of violence. He denounced its efforts to ‘push the young generations into the pit of fratricide’ and ‘the absurdity of war as a means to resolve differences’. He preached ‘that violence is evil, that violence is unacceptable as a solution to problems, that violence is unworthy of man. Violence is a lie, for it goes against the truth of our faith, the truth of our humanity. Violence destroys what it claims to defend: the dignity, the life, the freedom of human beings. Violence is a crime against humanity, for it destroys the very fabric of society.’
Using all his dramatic skills, John Paul turned from magisterial preacher to abject supplicant: ‘Now I wish to speak to all men and women engaged in violence. I appeal to you, in language of passionate pleading. On my knees I beg you to turn away from the paths of violence and to return to the ways of peace… Further violence in Ireland will only drag down to ruin the land you claim to love and the values you claim to cherish. In the name of God I beg you: return to Christ, who died so that men might live in forgiveness and peace.’