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‘I can still remember screaming for my mam’ – boy (3) abducted from playground during Pope John Paul II’s visit to Ireland speaks

  • Irish Independent headline in 1979: ‘Young boy found tied hand and foot’
  • Ralph Judge: ‘They tied me up and left me there’

A BOY who was kidnapped and kept from his family for two days during Pope John Paul II’s visit to Ireland in 1979 has spoken for the first time about his ordeal.

Ralph Judge was just three-years old when he was snatched from a playground and tied up in a derelict building in Dublin’s north inner city.

The terrifying incident made headlines across Ireland and elsewhere, but the historic visit of the Pope – and the incredible crowds he drew around the country – dominated the news agenda.

“It’s mad how when a boy went missing in 1979 that people were more concerned about the Pope,” Mr Judge, now 42, told Independent.ie.

The story of Mr Judge’s abduction appeared on the front page of the Irish Independent on 1 October 1979 – under a picture of the pontiff saluting crowds in Co Galway.

‘Young boy found tied hand and foot’ it read, alongside a grainy black and white picture of little Ralph on a bed in Temple Street’s Children’s Hospital.

Ralph Judge front page.jpg
Ralph Judge on the front page of the Irish Independent in 1979

The report said he suffered abrasions to his face and was treated for shock.

Even though he was only three at the time, Mr Judge still has flashbacks of what happened.

Ralph Judge looking at the Irish Independent's coverage of when he was kidnapped during the visit of Pope John Paul II to Ireland
Picture: Arthur Carron
Ralph Judge looking at the Irish Independent’s coverage of when he was kidnapped during the visit of Pope John Paul II to Ireland Picture: Arthur Carron

Speaking 39 years later, Mr Judge said he “could have died” if a local man had not found him.

“I was in the playground with my older brother and cousin when two young lads came and took me. Things were different back then, kids could go to the playground and usually be safe – except that day,” he said

“They tied me up and left me there. I can still remember screaming out the window for my mam.”

His wrists and hands were bound with insulating tape and he was left in the building for nearly two days as his distressed family, neighbours and gardai frantically searched the city for him.

Mr Judge, who has two daughters aged eight and 15, says he “couldn’t imagine” something like that happening to them.

“I remember being in the playground and my brother pushing me on the swing. I remember little things like that. These boys came up and pushed my brother and cousin and took me,” he said.

“When I was missing, a lot of people were looking for me. They reckon another two days in that building and I would have died. It’s scary to think of that happening to your own children.”

Mr Judge works as a plasterer and comes from a family of eight sisters and one brother, many of whom live in the UK.

He said the abduction and murder of Jamie Bulger in Liverpool in 1993 brought back painful memories for him.

“It was mad when that happened, as you think something like that could have happened to me, but luckily I am still here,” he said.

He said his mother couldn’t believe he was returned safely to her.

“When he [the man who found Mr Judge] ran in to tell me he found him, I didn’t believe him, I didn’t want to get my hopes up,” she told reporter Ken Ryan in 1979.

While two boys were questioned in connection with the incident, nobody was ever charged.

“The boys who kidnapped me should have been put away. You never know what they are doing today,” Mr Judge said simply.

He added his life is in a good place now. He bought his own home when the pound was still Ireland’s currency and is thankful he’s not competing in today’s market.

“It’s a grand spot,” he said.

The Dubliner is also a big football fan and is thoroughly enjoying his team’s domination of the All Ireland football championship.

“I’m still looking for a ticket for the final though,” he laughed.

One event he definitely won’t be attending, however, is Pope Francis’s visit to Sean McDermott Street this weekend.

Mr Judge spent most of his early years there, but he has no interest in returning home for the Vatican welcome.

“There’s not a hope in hell I’m going to see the Pope,” he said.

“I was raised Catholic but I think it’s ridiculous we’re spending €32 million on him coming here. There’s a lot better things we could be spending it on.”

 

independent.ie

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