How Social Media Reacted to the Pope in Ireland

Pope in Ireland how social media reacted

Pope in Ireland > 7 trending hashtags, a Papal selfie and, mixed emotions

In September 1979, we had a Pope in Ireland. Pope John Paul II arrived in Ireland to a 1.5million-strong catholic welcome. Fast-forward 39 years and a third of the audience showed up in person, but there was a whole other audience not taking up space in the Phoenix Park, Croke Park or Knock Shrine. This audience is the digital kind and they had lots to say!

As with many trending topics, I decided to take a deeper look at the social media conversations by analysing the big data around key topics and keywords.

But first, here’s a side-note about my memory (or lack of as a 20-month old baby) about the last papal visit to Ireland.

My 1979 papal memory: When Pope John Paul was in Knock blessing the masses, I was scalded with black tea leaving me with scars for life

Pope in Ireland 1979

Top takeaways

  • Twitter was the dominant social network

  • Pope emoji with trending hashtags

  • News and media leveraged live video to amplify their primary news platforms

  • 12- year old Alison Nevin is the public’s favourite with her Papal selfie

  • Mixed emotions and reactions to comments on child sexual abuse

  • #Stand4Truth and #TuamBabies hold strong share of voice over 48 hours

  • Taoiseach’s speech among most engaging content

  • Missed opportunity on Instagram

  • Big brands news-jack trending topic

  • Pope’s own social networks not used to any great extent

  • Sentiment pendulum swings slightly more negative than positive

  • Public engaged with news on social media

  • User-generated content gives a real sense of atmosphere from Papal events

Twitter dominant social network

Twitter was by far the most dominant social network commanding a consistent lead over any other platform throughout the two days. The pace and speed of tweets illustrated in the graphic below from Ritetag. In any given hour there were over 260 tweets and over 500 retweets.

Pope in Ireland Twitter stats

A more comprehensive look at the impact and reach of Twitter over the 36 hours of the Papal visit is illustrated below.

Twitter reach Pope in Ireland

There were seven simultaneous trending hashtags on Day 1 on Twitter tapping into the public interest in the papal visit.

#PopeinIreland #PopeFrancis #PapalVisit #voicesofimpat18 #PápaInÉirinn #CatholicChurch and #Catholics commanded the trends column.

Trending hashtags for pope in Ireland

The hashtag #PopeFrancis overtook #PopeInIreland towards the end of day 1.

Top hashtags Pope in Ireland

Pope Emoji

Pope in Ireland emoji

Twitter fans were rewarded when they tweeted about the Pope in Ireland. When you tweeted with any of the trending Pope hashtags, the bespoke Twitter emoji will appear at the end of the #PopeInIreland #PápaInÉirinn #WMOF2018 #FestivalOfFamilies hashtags.

Twitter will often create a unique emoji for major public events where there is massive public interest. Speaking to the media Karen White, Twitters’ Director of Public Policy for Europe, said:

“The visit of Pope Francis is one of the biggest events happening in Ireland this year and naturally many people will be using Twitter to discuss his time here.

“We want to encourage everyone across the world to join the conversation on Twitter about his visit to Ireland so we’ve created this special emoji for people to use.”


Papal Selfie

12-year-old Alison Nevin stepped forward to meet Pope Francis and we could see her mouth uttering, “can I have a photo?” Almost immediately the crowds roared in applause and she took a Papal selfie, with Pope Francis happy to be part of the moment. He even motioned to the reaction of the crowd. This moment was one of the most memorable from the Pope in Ireland.

RTÉ News’ Twitter account had the highest engagement on the social network relating to the Papal selfie. Their Tweet at 7.44pm on Saturday 25th August, shortly after the selfie was taken gained over 1,500 comments, 269 retweets and over 1,300 Likes.

Papal Selfie RTE tweet

Later that evening at the World Meeting of Families concert in Croke Park Pope Francis spoke about social media. While he warned of the “isolating dangers” he also said:

“Social media can be beneficial if used with moderation and caution and it helps connects families.” ? Pope Francis

Pope addresses child abuse

Many commentators and members of the public awaited Pope Francis’ address and in particular how he would deal with the topic of child sexual abuse.


The Taoiseach’s speech was very well received on social media when he called on the Pontiff to:“Use your office and influence” to bring about “justice and truth and healing for victims and survivors” of clerical abuse.


People used social media to share their personal views also.


public reaction to Pope in Ireland

Sentiment, #Stand4Truth and #TuamBabies

Sentiment measures positive, negative or neutral language used in online conversations. In the graph below, a slightly more negative sentiment is reported up to the morning of Sunday 26th August. The sentiment graph swayed throughout the Pope’s visit on both days.

Pope in Ireland sentiment

It fluctuated throughout the two days but at 4 pm on Sunday the positive and negative sentiment had balanced out.

A number of events organised by the #Stand4Truth captured the public conversation and the hashtag had a strong share of social voice with 4,816 mentions online in 48 hours.

#Stand4Truth share of voice Pope in Ireland



Almost twice as many men than women were engaged in the #PopeinIreland hashtag with the age profile capturing the interest of 80% of those aged 18-34 which might come as a surprise, or just reflective of those using the social network.

Pope in Ireland social media

Hot topics

Apart from the trending hashtags, there are a number of significant talking points around the Pope’s visit to Ireland which I could also capture including #Stand4Truth.

Pope in Ireland trending topics



Public access news on social media

The public was following the papal visit across social media. News outlets will see the value of social to their web traffic when they study their Google Analytics. Referral traffic from social will tell the full story for each media outlet, however, below we see which media titles got greatest public engagement on their content.

Top news networks for Pope in ireland

It’s clear that Facebook gets more engagement for news outlets.

Social media news for pope in Ireland


Irish Independent Pope in Ireland


The Taoiseach’s speech had a significant response online across news sites and social media featuring second and third.

Taoiseach's speech Pope in Ireland

Here are the top news stories, based on social media engagement for Saturday 25th August 2018.


Pope in Ireland media engagement

Pope in Ireland media engagement

Twitter for live news reportage

The media did a great job of using Twitter for live updates. Sky News created a Twitter moment which allowed us to follow hour-by-hour updates which they also pinned to their profile.

RTÉ’s Tweets performed particularly well as already mentioned and as evidenced by the one below.

Pope in Ireland signs Mayo Jersey

They also broadcast live on Twitter for the procession through Dublin City Centre.


The English-language Vatican News Twitter account used the channel to share press articles.

The Italian Vatican News Twitter account meanwhile showed more behind the scenes content, not shared on the English-language Twitter account.


Big brands news-jack

A key advantage of social media is being able to news-jack or hijack a trending topic. This often used tactic was in play by many brands in the lead up to the Papal visit. Bookmaker Paddy Power commissioned a survey on confession and also erected a life-size confessional box “to help the people of Ireland repent decades of sins in seconds ahead of the Pope’s visit this weekend.”

The survey found that over 25% of Irish people has not attended confession in over ten years or more. Almost 80% said they do not go to confession regularly (being once a month) and a further 29% disclosed that it was so long ago, they can’t remember when they last confessed.

Paddy Power confession box Pope in Ireland

Not missing a promotional opportunity either, Tourism Ireland highlighted Ireland’s Christian heritage in a video.


Instagram could have told the visual story

The official Instagram account of Pope Francis was not actively used during his visit to Ireland. In fact, there was only one photograph shared as the Pontiff climbed the steps of the Papal jet in the Vatican before flying to Ireland.

#apostolicjourney #viaggioapostolico #worldmeetingoffamilies

A post shared by Pope Francis (@franciscus) on

I jumped over the World Meeting of Families Insta account to get a sense of their visual storytelling but is was similarly lacking. The social media footprint of this high profile event was not maximised in any sense on the world’s fastest growing social network and popular amongst young people. There was however, lots of user-generated content (UGC) with festival goers using the hashtag #WMOF2018 with great enthusiasm. Neither Instagram accounts used the Stories feature either. I think overall it’s probably a big missed opportunity.


User-generated content provides unique insights

There were many voices and many views from many perspectives on social media. The papal visit was overshadowed by the Pennsylvanian Diocesan Victim’s Report on child sexual abuse last week, but also the many victims of abuse at the hands of the Catholic Church here in Ireland.




JSB’s Final Thoughts

It’s been an interesting weekend following the Pope’s visit through the lens of social media. Thanks to the media I was able to follow it from every possible angle. We are a very different country now than we were in 1979. People of my generation grew up listening to stories of Pope John Paul’s historic visit whether to Dublin, Drogheda or Knock. There’s no doubt there have been other public interest events that have generated more social media engagement and in my opinion without the activity of the media, the scale of the social conversations would have been significantly less.


I used a number of tools analyse the available data across the Internet:

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1 Comment

  • Sandra Losty Reply

    Fantastic overview of the days visit Joanne. I missed most of it but got a real sense of it here in you article.
    Well done


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