Thousands take to Dublin streets in protest over Pope visit

Thousands of people have taken to the streets of Dublin city centre in a series of protests against the visit of Pope Francis to Ireland.

Victims of clerical abuse gave emotional testimony at a demonstration at the General Post Office (GPO) on O'Connell Street organised by the Say Nope to the Pope group.

Among those were Co Offaly man William Gorry, who came to the event dressed as a priest.

Pope Francis visit to Ireland - Day 2
Sex abuse victim William Gorry (left) showing emotions as he joins clerical sex abuse protesters at the General Post Office (Aaron Chown/PA)

He attended Mount Carmel Industrial School in Moate, Co Westmeath, where he said he was sexually and physically abused, and has since founded the Residential Institution Survivors Network (RISN).

Mr Gorry broke down in tears as he recollected the experience.

"I want you to realise the amount of hurt, the damage, the distress out there that no one knows, because only a small percentage of survivors' voices are heard," he said.

"The amount of damage the church has caused is unbelievable. My first holy communion, and then I was put into a home with the Sisters of Mercy, the clergy, the nuns, the lay people. It is just unbelievable what they did.

"I had a brother, five years of age, severely disabled, he was also abused."

Catherine Coffey-O'Brien, from Tralee in Co Kerry, recollected her experiences of being sent to Bessborough Mother and Baby Home when she fell pregnant as a teenager. Her baby son was taken away from her when he was born.

"I got pregnant very young and was shipped off to Bessborough, a social worker told me I would be independently living there, and I would get to keep my baby. But that wasn't the case at all," she said.

"Up until this weekend I thought my country was turning a corner, Leo Varadkar and the minister for children are an absolute joke. I gave my evidence on mother and baby homes. They know about the unmarked graves, I told them half the deaths were not declared."

Pope Francis visit to Ireland - Day 2
A large crowd from the Stand4Truth protest at the Garden of Remembrance (Aaron Chown/PA)

Lisa Bracken, of the Say Nope to the Pope group, said: "As the supporters of the Catholic church gather in the Phoenix Park to wave their flags and express their joy, there are much more important issues taking place.

"Many victims of this organisation are finding it extremely difficult to cope with their emotions and mental health this weekend.

"It seems that their suppressed memories are coming back to haunt them and the only thing keeping them on an even keel is the thought that everyone here today in attendance and supporting us from afar are doing something about it."

A short time later, a larger crowd of several thousand assembled at the Garden of Remembrance for the Time for Truth rally.

It was organised by clerical abuse survivor Colm O'Gorman, who said the turnout surpassed his expectations.

He told those assembled they were there to "stand for the truth".

Lines of people filled Parnell Square East at 3pm as the pontiff led Mass at the Phoenix Park, just a few miles away.

Many held banners calling for "Secular Justice For All", Truth Justice Love and Church Without Abuse.

Brian Kennedy performing Imagine at Stand 4 Truth protest in Dublin #PopeInIreandpic.twitter.com/qyrfntO9GQ

-- Rebecca Black (@RBlackPA) August 26, 2018

Belfast singer Brian Kennedy was among the artists who gave performances.

Kennedy sang John Lennon's classic Imagine, before adding a new verse to the song.

He told the crowd to cheers, "I am singing this in the direction of Phoenix Park from this stage
Kennedy then sung the new verse: "Imagine there's no paedophiles, I wonder if you can."

Other performers included Hozier, Roisin O, Liam O Maonlai of the Hot House Flowers, Mary Black and Mary Coughlan.

The rally walked together from the Garden of Remembrance to the last Magdalene Laundry on Sean McDermott Street.

A moment of reflection was held outside the building which closed its doors as an institution in 1996.

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