It’s not everyday the Pope puts his hat on your head, and tells you ‘it suits you’ - but that’s exactly what happened Cookstown man Dan O’Neill in his ‘dream’ encounter with the Holy Father.
In Rome with a delegation of 14 from the Ancient Clan O’Neill, Cineál Eoghan and Tyrone Ancient Order of Hibernians, Dan toured Roman sites where Earl of Tyrone Hugh O’Neill had gone.
During the three-day trip, from April 4-6, Dan and his friend Ronnie Carson, had the good fortune to be escorted to the front of a crowd gathered for a public meeting with the Pope in St Peter’s Square.
It was during this event that Pope Francis placed his Papal Tiara on the Tyrone man’s head.
Explaining how it all happened, Dan said: “Myself and Ronnie Carson with Fr Michael MacCraith were to get a semi-private audience with the Pope.”
Although that didn’t work out, the group got tickets for the public audience.
He took his hat off, put her hat on, leaned forward and put the hat - for a joke - on my head. He says to me ‘it suits you’, and I said ‘bless you my child’ and the both of us started laughing.Dan O’Neill
“While we were in there, Fr Michael MacCraith got a call saying myself and Ronnie Carson, the two leading members of the Ancient Clan O’Neill could be led up to the front to meet the Pope,” he went on.
“When the Pope walked down, he walked to the crowd that we were standing in. I just leaned over and shook his hand and said ‘I’m Dan O’Neill from the Ancient Clan O’Neill and we are here to pay our respects to Hugh O’Neill’.
“He nodded and said, ‘lovely’, and I gave him a crest, which he took. He said ‘thank you very much’.”
But that was not where the interaction ended, as Dan said an American lady behind him had a white cap, which she was hoping to swap with the Pope for his. And as Pope Francis started to leave, Dan said, the lady had the hat up in the air, shouting ‘exchange, exchange, exchange’.
“He nodded, she passed the hat to me, and I passed it over to him,” he added. “He took his hat off, put her hat on, leaned forward and put the hat - for a joke - on my head.
“He says to me ‘it suits you’, and I said ‘bless you my child’ and the both of us started laughing. Even as I’m telling you this, I am thinking ‘did this really happen?’ Everybody around was wailing and crying, and I was just standing there thinking ‘was this some kind of a dream? - It was just surreal.
“We really have to thank Father Michael, rector of St Isidore’s College in Rome, he is a close personal friend and he was absolutely delighted to be made honorary president of the Ancient Clan O’Neill.”
While in Rome, the group also attended events at the Irish Embassy, toured the hospital in which Hugh O’Neill died and other areas with Irish connections.