Knock (Co. Mayo / East)
Knock (An Cnoc – “The Hill”) (pop. 1000), historically aka Knockdrumcalry, about which Lewis (1837) had little to say beyond noting that the parish had 3036 inhabitants and contained “a great quantity of bog“, is nowadays one of Europe’s major Roman Catholic pilgrimage destinations, with an average of 1,500,000 visitors annually, catered for by a range of local accommodation facilities etc.
The Knock Shrine & Msgr Horan
The Knock Shrine is the south gable end of the parish church of St John the Baptist (RC), where the Blessed Virgin Mary, together with Saint Joseph, John the Evangelist and Jesus Christ (as the Lamb of God) allegedly appeared on 21st August 1879 to 15 people of various ages and backgrounds, who prayed and recited the Rosary for two hours as they observed the beautific tableau vivant.
News of the glorious vision spread rapidly, putting Knock in the national and international press limelight, and reporters soon descended on the tiny village. Queen Victoria took a personal interest, and Nationalists were quick to elevate Our Lady of Knock to Queen of Ireland as a challenge to the British monarch’s legitimacy. Pilgrims began to arrive in droves and the Church hierarchy, initially cagey, realised they were onto a good thing. New railway lines and improved roads for modern cars helped Knock become the main centre for Marian devotion in the British Isles.
Monsignor James Horan (1911 – 1986) from Partry started working locally as a curate in 1963 and became parish priest in 1967. Concerned by the levels of poverty and emigration in the West of Ireland, he energetically set about transforming Knock from a cult site to a major international pilgrimage destination on a par with Lourdes and Fatima*.
Realising that the parish church (built in 1828) was too small for what he had in mind, Monsignor Horan enclosed the old gable wall in a protective glass structure and had a bigger edifice erected adjacent to it. The new building was further enlarged as part of his preparations for the arrival of the Pope John Paul II to commemorate the centenary of the Apparition, the triumphal highlight of the first ever Papal Visit to Ireland in 1979, when the new Pontiff, hinself a Marian devotee, declared it the country’s first Basilica.
The Basilica of Our Lady, Queen of Ireland can accommodate up to 15,000 congregants, with extra seating outside, and hosts several Masses daily. To cope with the faithful multitude entrance and exit areas are similar to football terraces.
Even more ambitious was the Monsignor’s plan for an international airport for the region, an idea that was initially widely ridiculed. His dogged determination succeeded in raising funds from all over the world, especially the USA, for the construction of a fully equipped airport near Charlestown, which opened in 1983 and is still a going concern.
Monsignor Horan died in Lourdes three tears later. His body was flown into Knock airport on the first international funerary flight to land there, and is buried in the Basilica.
Other places of interest within the Shrine complex include the Chapel of Reconciliation, a modern subterranean space filled with confessionals; the Old Cemetery, containing the Witnesses’ Graves; and The Knock Museum, a folk-cum-apparition-museum giving details of rural life in 1879 and the event itself.
Opposite both churches is a long row of taps for filling bottles with Holy Water. Amazing recoveries of sick and disabled people have been documented, and there is no doubting the faith of most of the visitors who flock to Knock during the Pilgrimage season, which runs from the last Sunday in April until the second Sunday in October.
(* Average number of visitors annually – Lourdes 5,000,000,000; Fatima only 4,000,000,000).
“The sun dancing in the sky” was the description most commonly given of “miraculous” solar antics allegedly seen by hundreds at Knock in October 2009. These phenomena, similar to the Miracle of the Sun reported at the time of the 1917 Fatima apparitions, had been “prophesied” by Dublin-based mystic Joe Coleman a few weeks earlier, and were met with widespread scepticism, but large groups of Travellers came to pray at the Basilica. Afterwards, industrial cleaners were needed to remove the rubbish left by the pilgrims within the complex, including spilt food and both soft and alcoholic drinks.
A major Christian rave was held in Knock for Easter in April 2012, featuring Christian Techno, Trance, Acid House and Dubstep music.
Knock village itself is not quite as crassly commercial as some of its continental counterparts, and its religious trinket shops are a spiritual world away from the Spanish artesan handcraft emporium where an Englishwoman inspecting some carved wooden crosses was heard to exclaim “Look Sidney! This one’s got a litle man on it!”
Knock has at least one friendly bar with snooker and darts (Coleman’s Pub, est. 1938) and several eateries, including the highly regarded Knock House hotel restaurant and a rather good Indian Tandoori house.
Peat drying (Photo by Dave Mariano)
Cultrasna is a mixture of new houses and 11 abandoned older dwellings, some still occupied within living memory. These date back to the early C19th, and have several interesting features, e.g. sleeping outshots of the kind known locally as Leaba Cailli -(“the Hag’s bed”). The layout of the original buildings and the nearby small stone-walled fields gives a glimpse of what life must have been like in this pre-Victorian ‘clump’ / ‘cluster’ village, so called because the area was so densely populated and arable land so scarce that houses were built very close together while the fields were subdivided into smaller plots where the people tried to sustain a living. These communities were the ones that suffered most during the Great Famine of 1845-1849.
County Mayo thoroughfare (Photo by Dave Mariano)