It’s 40 years since Pope John Paul II set foot in Ireland. And it’s 40 years since I first left Ireland to set foot in Spain. And it’s been some journey since!

This day 40 years ago I was on my way to Dublin to collect my first passport at the Passport Office. The photo for it was taken two days earlier in a photo booth in Woolworths in Cork an hour or so after Bishop Cornelius Lucey told me he was sending me to Spain to continue studies for the priesthood and that he’d “like me to go on Sunday”!

When I told him I didn’t have a passport, he had his secretary phone the passport office and they duly told him it would be ready by Friday at 1pm if I handed in the photo and the forms before 12noon that day. (Whenever I hear of people waiting for passports these days I smile and thing of that week!)

The bishop then told me that he had arranged for the students who were transiting to Spain to be able to stay in Maynooth on Friday and Saturday night so that we could see the Pope in the Phoenix Park on Saturday and fly out to Spain on Sunday. And so it was! I took a day off from my summer job in the creamery on Wednesday and told John Joe Collins that I’d be back on Thursday (The next bag of ration I handed out was in the following June.). I met the bishop in Cork on Wednesday, got the news, was given a plane ticket, took the photo and bought new pyjamas and other essentials in Woolworths, and took the bus back to Drimoleague to break the news to my parents. They and I must have been in a spin.

On Thursday I went to the Garda Station to get the passport form signed after I picked it up at the Post Office from Kathleen Kingston. She wasn’t used to handing out too many of them then. Back home to pack a case and get a spin from my father back into the village to get the bus to Cork.

Dad was a great talker among friends and neighbours but he was mostly a worker and quiet at home. “Sure if it doesn’t work out, tell us, and you can always come home.” That ‘visa’ to return was more important than the state’s passport to go.

My next visit home would be in June the following year, 1980, when I arrived back with chorizo sausage and a bottle of red wine from La Mancha and a lot of impressions to share with my siblings who had grown a year in my absence.