Knock And Its Shrine by F.P. Carey. Part 4.

There are, however, other categories in which the intercession of Mary of Knock has worked wonders for her clients in need.
“My married brother, who has five young children was two years out of work,” runs an acknowledgement from County Limerick.”I made a novena to Our Lady of Knock for him, and the very next day he called to tell me that he had got a permanent job with good pay.” A mother attested from County Wicklow that, thanks to Our Lady of Knock, her son successfully passed an examination. Three special favours vouchsafed, one upon the day upon which a Cork pilgrim prayed at the shrine.”I have never ceased to pray that Knock would become the Lourdes of Ireland,” wrote a London lady who after making a pilgrimage had a wonderful answer to prayer. A Galway student, told by his teachers that he was hopelessly backward, and had no chance of success, put his trust; in the intercession of Our Lady of Knock, and passed the examination. The official publications in connection with the Shine suggest that spiritual favours, too, have been so numerous during the short period referred to as to be considered particularly characteristic of Knock.

In view of the references made in the above-quoted acknowledgements to Knock cement, it may be necessary to explain that this substance indicates the coating of the Church gable against which the Apparition was actually manifest. During the years immediately following upon the wonder, pilgrims made a habit of piously detaching portions which they availed of, as seen, in the character of a relic. But for obvious reasons, the practice had to be discontinued, so that pieces of the original wall-fabric are no longer obtainable. Pilgrims, however, are now accustomed to treasure clay taken from the Church enclosure in the near vicinity of the shrine, which, of course, is permissible. Knock water is the ordinary holy water contained in two large tanks placed adjacent to the Apparition Gable, and always accessible to pilgrims. Knock-Mhuire is situated in that part of East Mayo through which meanders the little River Glore, at a distance of about one hundred and twenty miles from Dublin, and at equal distance from Claremorris, Ballyhaunis, and Kiltimagh, a half dozen miles in either instance.
The journey is made by rail to one of the centres named, thence by bus, always in readiness in the case of organized pilgrimages, or by hired conveyance always easily to be procured by private pilgrims. Claremorris is invariably the railway destination of pilgrimages from the South of Ireland, and from the southernmost parts of the West, whilst Kiltirnagh serves for Northern seekers of the Shrine. Pilgrims from Dublin and the East detrain, as a rule, at Ballyhaunis, and come from the West generally by one or other of the railway branch lines connected with either of the termini named. In many cases it should be remarked, pilgrims resident in the nearer but still distant, parts of Connacht make the journey on foot, frequently returning to their homes by the same method.
The village is but one of the many such places characteristic of County Mayo, having in itself but a very small population, housed chiefly in cottages clean and comfortable, but of the olden peculiarly picturesque type. The fame of Knock, however, has pardonably stimulated modest town-planning ambitions in the breasts of its inhabitants, and the interests of the future in this regard are being championed and vigilantly guarded by the Mayo County Council. Grateful tribute is due to that body for having so promptly and so determinedly defeated the attempt to commercialize the possibilities offered by the continual stream of pilgrims at the hallowed place made by persons from outside parts soon after the devotional appeal of Knock had received the new impetus accorded it by the several forward developments of 1935. This action resulted in the removal of some stalls hastily erected for mercantile purposes upon the public road near the church and Shrine, and in the formulation of regulations which will prevent for all time the commercial exploitation of the appeal of Knock-Mhuire by any means. The powers sought and obtained by the Council will, it is pleasing to read, enable that body to negotiate with persons concerned for the purpose of acquiring the land necessary for the better laying out of a suitable surrounding for an Irish Shrine to Our Blessed Lady.

Historically, the village is non distinctive. Even though within hearing distance of Killala’s broad bay and places of like high sounding note in national story, Knock would appear to have slumbered in philosophic peace whilst the more strenuous chapters of Irish history were being written. Two years previous to the penning of these lines, the writer endeavoured to discover by casual enquiry upon the spot something of outstanding importance in the secular, or national history of the place, but the effort was unrewarded. Two or three men seemed to harbour an idea that something or other had happened in the neighbourhood during Ninety-Eight, though neither could refer informedly to any such occurrence, and all appeared indifferent in regard of its historical importance. Their attitude was a reproof, and though I did not immediately so recognize it, a well-deserved one. I was to have known, as I ought, and as all corners and goers in the village must know, that Knock was reserved for the one occurrence which was to raise its name high above all considerations of common historical import. Nothing meriting special record happened there until that Assumption octave-eve of holy renown. The only illustrious one concerned in extending the name of this Mayo village, and in the making of its fame, was Our Lady of Knock. Mary, the secret of its holiness, is also the secret of its history.

Knock, therefore, has no man-made memorials of village patriotism or prowess. Its parish church, scene of its one and incomparably-memorable event, disclose in its plain walls and slightly ornate bell-tower, the only architectural pretensions of the place. The edifice, which is of cruciform order, and not spacious, was built by Father Patrick O”Grady, P.P., in 1825, the tower, accommodating the principal entrance, being added by Archdeacon Cavanagh during the year following the Apparition. A later pastor, Father John J. Tuffy, considerably enlarged the building in the endeavour to meet the ever-increasing pilgrimage demands. The interior was greatly beautified as a result of further zealous activity upon the part of the same parish priest, though it had already been embellished by frequent gifts made by pilgrims vouchsafed favours at the Shrine. These are now many, the most remarkable being, perhaps, an elaborate banner of green satin,inscribed in letters of gold: “Toronto is Grateful.”

This was presented to the shrine by Most Rev. Dr. Lynch, Archbishop of Toronto, in order to perpetuate his thanksgiving for a favour received upon recourse to Our Lady of Knock very soon after the Apparition. He travelled from Canada in 1882, specially in order to make personal thanksgiving at the Shrine. Archbishop Lynch was probably the first apostle of devotion to Our Lady of Knock beyond the Atlantic, for he preached of her advocacy almost without cease to his own flock, and never failed to urge priests of his own archdiocese visiting Ireland to include in their itinerary a visit to Knock. Afterwards, he wrote an account of the deep impression which his own visit had made upon him, and expressed his conviction that ultimately the Shrine and its devotion would be given canonical approval. Gifts from two other Archbishops are also included among the votive offerings seen in the church interior. One, presented by the late Archbishop Murphy, of Hobart, Tasmania,-a painting in oils of the Apparition, nine feet by seven-is to be seen above the door upon the Epistle side, and, in the corresponding position upon the Gospel side, is a beautifully executed canvas of St. Joseph with the Holy Child, given by Most Rev. Dr. Clune, C.SS.R., Archbishop of Perth, Australia.
The church occupies an expansively enclosed space in mid-village, wherein the first object of interest is the gable (the end, or altar, wall) upon which the Apparition was seen. The hallowed space has now been railed in, but life- size figures of whitest marble have been arranged in reproduction of the wonder exactly as described by the witnesses. Other marble statues are to be seen at different points around the enclosure, the devotional aspect of which has latterly been brought to irresistible completion of appeal by the erection of Stations of the Cross, which are the happy outcome of a widely-circulated shilling-subscription list furthered by the members of the Society for the Promotion of the Cause of Knock Shrine.
Despite the glory of its three score years, and in fact of the almost hourly reports of marvellous graces and favours granted upon supplication of Almighty God through Our Blessed Lady in its name, Knock still, if even to fast diminishing extent, excites the objections of scepticism. Nevertheless, contention has been reduced to one note of challenge, namely that, contrary to the experience of St. Bernadette at Lourdes, and of favoured mediums of other heavenly manifestations, no word was heard by those to whom the Blessed Virgin appeared at Knock, no message given such as the plea for penance -addressed by the Mother of God to the little rustic maiden of 1858 from the Grotto above the waters of the Gave. Nor did the Apparition occur at any moment of import for the Faith, or for the world, it has been objected, such, as if in confirmation of the Definition of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, in the case of Lourdes.
But spoken messages are not essential to the authenticity of claims to visions. Many saints have had visions of Our Divine Lord, of Our Lady, and of other Saints, in which no word was uttered. St. John of the Cross expressed the view that messages are sometimes apt to occasion difficulty in interpretation, the inference being that they are likely to be misunderstood by the average mortal hearer. The Cistercian Father already quoted has dealt with the objection put forward as upon this point, and the reasonableness of his rejoinder cannot but help to fortify the defences of the Knock devotion against further attacks by the sceptics:
The mission of Mary to Knock was not one of rebuke or complaint against our people as was the case at La Salette and Lourdes against the prevailing vices and abuses that were shaking the very-foundations of the Faith in France in those days. Neither was it a call to do penance, as on those occasions. No, Mary’s mission to her faithful Irish people that day was rather one of compassion and comfort in those dark days of their sorrow and sufferings, with an implied admonition, no doubt, of dangers ahead, and the imperative need of prayer.”

As to the urgency of heavenly indication at the period in which the Apparition at Knock occurred, it need only he recalled that even as late as 1879, the peasant population of Ireland lived under conditions in regard of which an English writer stated humanity would shrink startled and appalled. Injustice trod cruelly upon Ireland. The Apparition of the Virgin Mother of God at Knock, proved then, the illumination of the temporal future of the Irish peasant or agricultural population. With what satisfaction may we got recall the inspiriting experience of having heard the utmost proof of that illumination, in the person of a Catholic Minister of an Irish native government (Mr. Tomas Derrig, Minister for Education) declare in a lecture on the Apparition, delivered in a Dublin theatre in December, 1936 “This bright light seems to have been the harbinger of better days for our people. World-wide sympathy was aroused. America, Australia, France, India, and Great Britain subscribed huge sums for relief. Seed was distributed; works were started; a good harvest followed. A tragedy, perhaps, as great as that of 1846 was averted. Michael Davitt established the Land League, and this was soon followed by a Land Act and other measures of amelioration. Since then conditions have been improving steadily, and, thank God, we are never likely to see the spectre of Famine in Ireland again.”

As we close this sketch, the sixtieth year since the Apparition at Knock has been completed. In the fact we find our concluding reflection. Does it not suffice as proof of the authenticity of the claim that even under the fire of ridicule, adverse criticism, and open hostility, the belief that Our Blessed Lady with St. Joseph and St. John Evangelist stood for two hours in the midst of those humble Mayo villagers has flourished as a flower of Irish Faith, sending forth its fragrance to the ends of the earth?