Long before dawn broke on the clear, cool autumn day along the eastern coast of Ireland, hundreds of thousands of people were already on their way to catch their first glimpse of Pope John Paul II.

Residents of the Dublin area and visitors from around the country and the world walked and rode city buses along otherwise deserted streets to Phoenix Park.Hundreds camped outside the park gates during the night to win a place close to the huge, tiered altar surmounted by a 120-foot, white and golden metal cross.

For many making the journey on foot, it became a typically Irish pilgrimage. Neighbors and whole parish congregations marched together in the darkness. Almost all carried picnic lunches and folding chairs to help through the long hours before the pope would appear.

As a red sun arose over the trees around 7 a.m., the fenced-off enclosures for the crowd on the hill overlooking the River Liffey in Phoenix Park were filling rapidly.By 9:30 a.m., all 980,000 color- coded stickers for places inside the enclosures had been claimed.

At noon, shortly before the pope's arrival there, people were still streaming into the park by the thousands, filling every spot of open ground within distant sight of the gray-carpeted, two-acre altar under a gleaming white canopy. The Irish police estimated that at least 1.2 million people were there.

Their first sign of the pope came just before 10 a.m., when his green and white Aer Lingus 747 -- specially outfitted inside, festooned with extra green shamrocks outside and christened "St. Patrick" -- made low pass over the park, flanked by roaring Irish military jets.

The jumbo jet landed minutes later at nearby Dublin Airport, where the tarmac and terminal were filled with government and church dignitaries, reporters and Aer Lingus employes and their families. Pope John Paul II, the first pope to set foot in Ireland then emerged in plain white vestments under a bright scarlet cloak, and knelt to kiss the ground on the tarmac.

Banners on the airport terminal proclaimed in four languages -- English, Irish, Polish and Italian -- that "Ireland Welcomes Pope John Paul II."

The pope went through the airport ceremonies bareheaded, his thinning white hair rippling in the stiff breeze, after his white skullcap blew off. He was greeted by Ireland's ceremonial president, Dr. Patrick Hillary, and the Catholic primate of all Ireland, Cardinal Thomas O'Fiaich, the archbishop of Armagh. O'Fiaich set the tone for a day of Irish-Polish fellowship by greeting the pope in Irish, English and Polish.

Cardinal O'Fiaich who also greeted the pope in the ialect of Northern Ireland, where the See of Armagh is located. He welcomed the pontiff as "a messenger of peace to a troubled land."

The pope strolled, still bareheaded, past bishops, young priests and school children who waved papal flags and surrounded him on the tarmac. In his warm personal greetings, his expressive body language -- a papal kiss, an intimate glance, a broad smile, a pat on the arm or a strong hand embracing the back of a child's head -- substitute for his evident lack of offhand conversational facility in English.

It was to be the pattern of his contacts with groups both intimate and multitudinous the rest of the day. Pope John Paul often communicated more strongly by his presence than by his words, despite the strength and occasional poetry of his prepared remarks, which he wrote.