The Irish Brigade Meets the Pope
“When the Brigade passed through Rome to concentrate north of that wonderful city, two people had one single thought in their mind – that was for the Irish Brigade to be received in audience by the Pope, but both of them kept their thoughts to themselves and worked independently.
Captain Bowen-Colthurst was the first to be given an interview. Incidentally, he was the first British officer to be received by the Holy Father and the first audience the Holy Father had held for nine months. He asked for a special audience to be granted and tentative arrangements were made. Then the next day, the Reverend D Kelleher, the Catholic Chaplain, went to the Vatican with Lieut D Macginess and made the same request for an audience for the Irish Brigade.
A few days later when the Brigade had settled down in the new area north of Rome, the Brigade Commander and Reverend D Kelleher went to make the first arrangements for the audience. It was held at nine o’clock on the 12th June and the total representatives from the Brigade were to number about 150. Five officers and 30 men from each of the three battalions, 5 officers and 15 men from Brigade HQ and a small representative party from the supporting units of the Brigade Group – 214 Field Company RE, 254 A/Tk Battery RA, and D Support Group (1 Kensingtons).
The reason for the early hour of the audience was because the Holy Father had expressed the desire to see the Irish Brigade on their own and not at the normal public audience later on in the morning.
At 0830 hrs on the 12th June, the Brigade formed up in the Piazza San Pietro, the Brigade Pipe Band in front and the three battalions, 6 Innisks, 2 LIR and the 1 RIrF followed by Brigade HQ and the supporting units.
It was a glorious day, the sun shining down out of a cloudless sky, the drums glinting, the hackles waving proudly in the breeze and to the tune of ‘The Wearing of the Green’, the Brigade marched across the Piazza into the Vatican.
In the audience chamber, the Brigade formed up with the Pipers in the front row and the officers along each side of the walls in front.
The Holy Father immediately on reaching the dais began to speak:
‘Dearly beloved sons,
We bid you welcome. You belong to the nation which has ever belonged to God’s church since St Patrick.
We are well aware of the good that the Irish have done in spreading the faith from the shores of their green isle into the United States of America, Australia, South Africa, and many other nations.
We greet you and bless you with all our Heart’s affection and your dear ones at home. God be with you always. We bless also all the religious objects you have with you.’
After his short audience, he gave the Papal Blessing. Then, Reverend D Kelleher introduced the Brigade Commander, who presented the Holy Father with a small scroll expressing his gratitude on the occasion of this special audience. Brigadier Scott asked the Holy Father, whether he would care to hear the pipers and to his delight played two short tunes – ‘The Wearing of the Green and ‘The Minstrel Boy.’
Everybody then kissed the Holy Father’s ring and with three hearty cheers – followed by an Irish one – ringing in his ears, the Holy Father left the audience chamber.
Once more, the Holy Father formed up in the Piazza San Pietro, marched around the great fountain and then went into St Peter’s Church where Reverend Dan Kelleher celebrated mass.
After mass, the Band played to an admiring audience of soldiers and civilians on the steps of the St Peter’s for about half an hour.
So ended a great day for the Irish Brigade and one which will remain forever in the memories of those present as a great and impressive occasion.”