Armagh a likely venue for Pope’s state visit to UK

Having just taken part in a BBC NI film When the Pope Came to Ireland 30 years ago, I’ve been thinking that a visit from Pope Benedict next year could hardly be more different. The film vividly recorded the contrast between yesterday’s faith and hope in grim days and today’s disillusion and fragmentation in otherwise better times. The expectation that a Pope will visit Armagh at last will no doubt be welcome. JP2’s plans were finally dashed by the horrors of the Mountbatten assassination and the Narrow Water massacre (though at the time I didn’t believe for a moment that Armagh was really on). However, heartburn will surely be felt as the Pope is apparently to come as part of a state visit to the UK rather than in a pastoral visit to Ireland like his predecessor.

Unlike 1982 (when John Paul made a pastoral visit to Britain and balanced it with one to Argentina during the Falklands War) and when the Troubles in Ulster were raging, the Pope is expected to include Northern Ireland in his itinerary. Mr Brown specifically asked the Pope to visit “all parts of the UK” when he invited the pontiff. Armagh is one location being considered.

But we haven’t heard the full range of the plans yet and perhaps an Irish pastoral visit will emerge too. Let’s hope they don’t fumble this one. After all. Ireland is a single pastoral entity for all the main churches.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London