St. Patrick was the instrument God chose to bring the Irish to Catholicism. He was born in the late 300s in England or Scotland (accounts differ) and was subsequently kidnapped by Irish pirates and sold into slavery. For six years he took care of the sheep and pigs in county Atrim. He considered this time of capture as a blessing because his faith blossomed and grew strong and his prayer life increased. He then had a vision and was directed to stow away on a boat bound for Britain where he was united to his family. Twelve years later, St. Patrick returned to Ireland as a priest on the Feast of the Annunciation in 433 with the sole desire to convert sinners, preach the gospel and to bring souls to Christ. He had a great devotion to Our Lady and built a church in the town of Trim county of Meath, which became a great pilgrimage spot in Europe and dedicated it to Our Lady of Trim. It was this cathedral that housed a miraculous Image of Mary. In 1397, a blind man, Hugh MacMahon, received his sight after fasting in honor of the image of Mary. In 1412, it is recorded that this image wrought many miracles, though not specifying what they were. In 1444, miracles attributed to the Image were: sight was restored to another blind man, speech to a mute man, a lame man walked and a withered hand that stretched out was restored to normal. Unfortunately, “Reformers” destroyed the Cathedral in 1538, but Marian devotion remains a stronghold in the land that has suffered for the faith.
Shrine of Our Lady of Knock
Another well-known Shrine, Our Lady of Knock, is situated in western Ireland. The name of Knock is derived from the Irish word Cnoc, which means hill and is now known as Cnoc Mhuire (Mary’s Hill). It is an oasis of peace and tranquility, a place where healings are sought, prayers are raised up in supplication, and numberless graces are obtained. It is a heavenly plot of land where Our Lady appeared on a rainy summer night, more than 130 years ago, on August 21,1879. The Shrine, set on one hundred verdant acres of beautifully landscaped gardens and enhanced with many beautiful statues, draws 1-½ million pilgrims a year. There are five churches on the grounds: the Apparition Church, the Parish Church/Old Church, the Basilica, the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and the Chapel of Reconciliation. Also located on the property is a place to stay, a restaurant, a Religious Articles store, a Carmelite Monastery, a post office, and a health center.
The plight of the Irish
It is important to understand the history of the Irish people in order to learn the reason for Our Lady’s divine visit. It is not well known that the Irish endured hundreds of years of persecution, epidemics, famine, forced slave labor and many other troubles.
Ireland’s trials increased in the mid twelfth century when the Anglo Normans attacked; thereby beginning the 800-year struggle with England. The crowning of Henry VIII in 1507 intensified their hardships as he proceeded to declare himself the head of the Church in England and then in 1541 appointed himself the king of Ireland. He put English lords in charge of confiscated land in Ireland and then destroyed Catholic monasteries and churches as he did in England. When his daughter Elizabeth became queen in 1558, she continued the program of Catholic extinction beginning in England and extending to their neighbor – Ireland.
After their land was stolen by England, the people were forced to hunt for roots like animals. In the 1630s, the Irish Slave Trade began. They were kidnapped, rounded up and driven like cattle to waiting ships and transported to English colonies in America, never to see their country again. King James II of England sent 30,000 Irish prisoners as slaves to the New World. Ireland quickly became the biggest source of human livestock for English merchants – filling the coffers of the British. It is shocking to report that in the mid 1600s the English sold 300,000 Irish into slavery and, killed an additional 500,000, decimating the Irish population from 1,500,000 to 600,000 in just one decade. It is estimated that 100,000 Irish children between the ages of 10 and 14 were taken from their parents and sent to the West Indies, Virginia and New England. The slaves were cruelly treated and tortured if they disobeyed.
The Irish woes continued under the never-ending protestant leadership and in the 1690s, Oliver Cromwell severely persecuted the Catholics. The Penal Laws further banned Catholicism and forced many priests and bishops into hiding. If the priests didn’t leave, they were killed. Catholics couldn’t teach or attend Catholic schools. Tutors, who were often fugitive priests, would clandestinely gather the children in secret places to teach basic education and the rudiments of the faith. Catholics were barred from Parliament, military, legal profession, all civil offices and they were not allowed to acquire land or hold a mortgage. The protestants took the land and became greedy landlords who extorted outrageous rents from their tenants and forced the majority to live in poor houses in dire poverty.
“Bishops and Archbishops, meanly dressed in rough clothing trudged on foot among their people, and often dwelt and ate and slept in holes on the ground. Thus, in the bogs and barren mountains, whether wolfhounds and bloodhounds trailed them, the Catholic clergy sheltered all that was noble, high, and holy in Ireland”, stated Seumas MacManus.
The people held fast to their great love of the Holy Mass, though forbidden, and would covertly gather at “Mass Rocks” where the Priest would offer Holy Mass. This rock was often taken from a church ruin, and used as a place of worship for the offering of Holy Mass. A traditional Gaelic hymn sings of the Mass Rocks:
Did you go then to the grey rocks,
And behind a wind-swept crevice there,
Did you find Our Mary gently waiting,
Our Lady, sweet and fair?
Did the sun shine gently round her,
Making gold darts through her hair?
And will you stay silent as the day
When the wind has left the air?
- “Were you At the Rock?”
The 1700s saw a slight mitigation in the laws against the Catholics, but the persecution did not cease until the 1800s. Fearing a revolution in Ireland, the Home Secretary, Robert Peel, drew up the Catholic Relief Bill and guided it through the House of Commons in 1829. Finally the Irish were allowed to sit in the Parliament at Westminster and allowed to attend “Mass houses”. However, the English landlords still refused churches to be built on their property, so the faithful continued to worship at the Mass Rocks. The English finally stopped the dreadful slave trade in 1839, after the 1833 Act to end slavery in the British empire was enacted.
The great Irish Potato Famine occurred between the years of 1845 and 1852 resulting in one million deaths and one and a half to two million emigrations, resulting in a decrease of about 25% of the population. By 1850, 25% of the Boston population was Irish and that diocese was buoyed with many Irish priestly vocations, as evidenced in the Boston Diocese records. Though the potato crop had failed, Ireland still produced enough grain to feed the citizens but, as English soldiers guarded the granaries, the Irish were forced to export these crops even though their people lay starving in the plentiful land. Each day Thirty to fifty shiploads of crops, which included beans, wheat, barley, oats, peas, onions, seeds, rabbits, salmon, herring, honey animal skins, rags, shoes and butter were exported. They were threatened with death if they procured any fish for food because it “belonged to the English.” Due to the inability to pay the exorbitant rents, estimates are that at least 250,000 were evicted from their homes. The general consensus today believes that the famine was either directly or indirectly genocide or at the very least, a case of forced neglect.
The English Quaker William Bennett witnessed three emaciated children huddled together, unable to rise because of their weakness, pale and ghastly with their very thin arms and legs, sunken eyes and no voice who were in the last days of starvation. Many heart-rending descriptions of the horrible plight of the Irish were written which detailed their starvation to shocking degrees. Priests would often anoint 40 people a day with the Last Sacraments. The enormity of such misery is unfathomable.
Devotion to Our Lady
Our Lady responded to such a faithful, suffering people, who cried out in agonizing supplication to heaven. She had always been with them to bring them comfort, courage, patience and countless other graces. The Irish people manifested their love for Mary through their constant praying of the rosary. They were men and women of “The Bades”, growing up with the rosary. Most of them could not read or write and since they could not follow the Latin Mass, they would pray the rosary, keeping the mysteries close to their hearts, while Mass was being offered. They remembered our Lady when they greeted each other by saying: “God and Mary be with you.” Their great love for the Mass was evidenced at the Mass Rocks when they gathered secretly to attend the Holy Liturgy. Upon rising on Sunday morning they would pray: “A hundred welcomes to you, O King of Sunday, Who comest with help to us after the week! Hasten my feet early to Mass, Open my mouth to pronounce holy words, Move my fingers on the Chain of the soul (the rosary)”. On the way to Mass they would recite this prayer: “We walk to the Holy Mass, together with the Blessed Virgin and the other holy persons who accompanied her only-begotten Son to Calvary.”
The Apparition of Our Lady of Knock occurred on a rainy Thursday evening, August 21, 1879 at about 8:00 p.m. Providentially, the pastor of Knock, Fr. Cavanaugh, completed the 100th consecutive Mass for deceased souls on that very day.
Margaret Byrne went to lock the church and on the way back saw an unusual brightness near the wall of the church but didn’t stop to investigate. A little later, Fr. Cavanaugh’s housekeeper, Mary McLaughlin, went to visit Mrs. Byrne. She also passed by the wall and thought she saw statues but said nothing. On Mary McLaughlin’s way back with Mrs. Byrne’s daughter, Mary, they both saw the figures and wondered where Father had obtained the “statues”. Mary Byrne drew closer and exclaimed that they were not statues because they were in motion. She cried out that it was the Blessed Virgin! The two ladies were very excited and they ran home to tell their families about the Apparition and urged them to come quickly. Mary Byrne’s twenty-year-old Brother, Dominik, was hesitant to believe her story but nevertheless, the family hastened to see the Apparition and was amazed at what they saw. Soon others in the neighborhood, to whom Mary had told the story, excitedly joined them to witness the heavenly phenomenon. Although there were in total twenty witnesses, only fifteen were officially examined.
The vision was as follows: There were three figures positioned at the wall of the Church, floating about two feet off the ground. The central figure was Our Lady who wore a large white cloak clasped at her neck and a brilliant crown on her head. Her hands, facing each other, were held at the level of her shoulders. It seemed she was in prayer as her eyes were raised toward heaven. She was slightly higher than the other two figures. On our Lady’s right stood St. Joseph whose hands were joined, his head slightly bowed and his body slightly bent towards her. On her left stood St. John the Evangelist who was dressed like a bishop. In his left hand he held an open book and his right hand was raised and pointed upwards. To the left of St. John, and higher than the other figures, was a plain, full-sized altar on which stood a lamb facing towards the figures. One of the witnesses said the lamb appeared to be only about eight weeks old. Just behind the lamb was a cross. The altar was in the center of the wall, just under the window. “The figures were full and round as if they had a body and life,” but no words were spoken. They were so alive and real that a 75-year-old lady, Bridget Trench, tried to kiss Our Lady’s feet but, when she reached up, she was only able to grasp the wall. She then felt the ground underneath the figures and noticed it was completely dry even though it was raining heavily and the people were drenched. One young teenager, Patrick Hill, saw a rose on Our Lady’s forehead and angels hovering around the lamb. The two-hour Apparition began when still daylight, but darkness descended only a half hour later. Illuminating the rainy night, the figures were bathed in a soft brilliant light, which was seen about a half mile away. Patrick Walsh said he saw a bright light above the Church and thought it might be a fire, lit by the parishioners. Everyone who came to the Apparition were able to perceive it and they were not held in ecstasy. They were filled with awe and wonder and experienced great love, tears, devotion and consolations.
After a half hour the parish housekeeper returned to the rectory and related the event to Fr. Cavanaugh and urged him to make haste and witness the miracle. He, however, thought she might have seen a reflection and thought no more about it. Some eventually left because they were soaked and Judy Campbell had to leave to take care of her sick mother. When she arrived home, she saw that her mother had collapsed on the floor. She rushed back to the crowd to tell them her mother died and begged their help. In their kindness, they left the vision to see how they could help Judy. They all realized that the elderly mother had also wanted to see the Apparition too but was too sick and collapsed on the way to the door. After ten or fifteen minutes, when all was well with Judy’s mother, they went back to the wall, but the Apparition had disappeared and so the gathering dispersed.
The next day Father was very surprised when he heard about the miracle on his way to offer Holy Mass. Everyone was talking about it. Father questioned Mary McLaughlin, Mary Byrne, and the other witnesses, and they told the same story. They were sad that the holy priest had not seen the Apparition for they believed that Our Lady came because of Father’s sanctity.
People began to flock to the chosen site and many extraordinary cures occurred. Archdeacon Cavanagh and two Canons of the Chapter set a commission up two months after the Apparition. Fifteen witnesses were examined and the testimonies proved to be trustworthy and in order, making the Archdeacon a believer. In 1880, he told some pilgrims “it is a great blessing to the poor people of the West, in their wretchedness and misery and sufferings, that the Blessed Virgin Mother of God has appeared among them.”
Though the miracles are too numerous to recount, following are some of the miracles:
Shortly after the Apparition, miracles, reported also in the newspapers, occurred to people who visited the parish church in Knock to worship. A young girl who had been deaf instantly received hearing ten days after the Apparition. By the following year (1880), the parish priest had recorded instances of about 300 miraculous cures in his diary, including: disabled people walking again, blind people receiving sight, as well as cures for other conditions, such as skin problems, hearing restored to the deaf, cancer patients suddenly healed. Pilgrims were stripping the cement from the gable wall because it was discovered to have healing power and soon it was in danger of collapsing. The parish priest was forced to cover it with boards to protect it from further damage.
In the early 1880s, Bishop Murphy of Tasmania travelled 12,000 miles to thank Our Lady of Knock for restoring his sight through the application of cement from the Knock Church.
Within the first year of the Apparition, Archbishop Clune of Perth, Australia reported that he was cured through the intercession of Our Lady of Knock and in thanksgiving he donated an oil painting of St. Joseph holding the child Jesus, to Knock Church.
In 1935 or 1936 a London Sister of Charity, suffering from ear-trouble for a long time, underwent an operation. The doctor had harbored little hope of her surviving and no hope for her hearing. After the operation, Sister was ordered to bed for six months. On the following day, the Sister was out of bed, and apparently restored to normal vigor. Her non-Catholic doctor examined her and found the wounds healed, and the hearing perfect. He exclaimed she was cured but it was nothing he did. The Sister attributed her cure solely to the intercession of Our Lady of Knock. She prayed a Novena to Our Lady of Knock and applied a piece of cement from the Apparition gable to the affected part of her ear. On the fourth day of the Novena she rose in obedience to a voice, which said: “Get up, Sister, you are cured!”
Reports of miraculous cures of sick and disabled pilgrims continue to this day, averaging twenty to thirty claims each year. Cured pilgrims still leave their sticks and crutches by the Apparition gable – manifesting the healing power of Knock.
The Irish were consoled in their trials and tribulations and they surmised that the reason for the Apparition was to comfort the Irish families, who had endured so much sorrow and suffering. Others believed that the plain altar, on which the silent Lamb stood, was a reference to the Mass Rocks, where the Catholics were forced to gather in order to hear Mass. The Irish maintain that the Holy Sacrifice is the soul of their Faith and if the Apparition helps to increase devotion of so great a Sacrament, then that love will be passed on, as the persecuted forefathers would desire. Others maintain that Our Lady is praying and is with each one present during the Holy Mass as She asks Our Lord for their share of the Graces of the Mass. It is interesting to note that the Apparition occurred on a Thursday, the day of the week dedicated to the Priesthood and the Blessed Sacrament.
Theologians are unanimous in believing that the altar and the Lamb are central to the Apparition, stating that they proclaim the great importance of the Holy Mass. They assert that Our Lady leads us to the Altar, on which the Holy Sacrifice of Calvary is renewed in every Mass.
“Knock is a manifestation of the mystery of redemption wrought by the Lamb of God. By a felicitous symbolism conceived in heaven, the Queen of Knock reveals in her person something of that singular grace and beauty conferred on her by this mystery . . . She appears as the climax of human redemption. This unique completion of redemption in Mary has already crowned her in heaven as the divine ideal, which foreshadows the absolute victory and transfiguration awaiting the Church on its entry into eternity.”  Our Lady was silent because, as four witnesses said, she was praying. Our Lady was interceding for Her children, advocating for them; therefore, theologians have seen the Virgin Mary as Mediatrix of All Graces. She was silent, wishing the witnesses to look beyond her to the altar and the Lamb ready for sacrifice; she looked up, as if to bid those present to accompany her in spirit to the high Throne of God.
Additionally, theologians and church authorities have offered explanations based on scripture. Meditation on Scripture clarifies and deepens the meaning of Knock. St. John, who held a book in his hand is Bishop, author of the Apocalypse and is the official preacher. The key to the message is found in the Bible – the Old Testament Lamb of the Passover, The New Testament: “Behold the Lamb of God” (Jn 1:29) and especially in the Apocalypse with references to the Lamb and the Divine Liturgy: “Saying with a loud voice: The Lamb that was slain is worthy to receive power, and divinity, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and benediction.” (Rev. 5:12) In the Apparition, the holy figures were bathed in light on that August night, and in scripture Our Lady is clothed with the Sun, “and a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rev 12:1). Mary, co-redemptrix, who stood in exceeding sorrow at the foot of the Cross, stands near the altar of the Lamb. Arnold of Chartres (+1160) says: “(Christ and Mary) together accomplished the task of man’s Redemption…. both offered up one and the same sacrifice to God: she in the blood of her heart…. He in the blood of the flesh…. so that together with Christ, she obtains the common effect of the salvation of the world”.
Four Catholic Popes have given their blessing to Knock over the years. On All Saints’ Day, 1945, Pope Pius XII blessed the banner of Knock from St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and adorned it with a special medal. In 1960, on the Feast Day of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, Pope John XXIII presented a special candle to Knock. On June 6, 1974, Pope Paul VI blessed the foundation stone for the Basilica of Our Lady, Queen of Ireland, at Knock. Most recently, Pope John Paul II visited the shrine on September 30, 1979 to celebrate the centenary of the Apparition. Hundreds of thousands of the Irish rejoiced in the occasion as the great Marian Pope endorsed the Apparition with his visit and inspired an even greater devotion to the Shrine. The Pope, now Saint John Paul II, spoke with the sick and nursing staff, offered Holy Mass, established the shrine church as a basilica, presented a candle and the Golden Rose to the shrine and prayed with filial devotion at the Apparition wall.
The Annual Novena
A nine-day Novena in honor of Our Lady takes place in August every year and up to 100,000 pilgrims from Ireland and all over the world come at various stages during this time to participate in prayer and listen to spiritual teachings. In 1977, Monsignor James Horan, who was the parish priest of Knock at that time, established the Annual Novena. August was selected as the appropriate month to focus attention on the devotion to Mary, as the feast of the Assumption is August 15, the feast day of Our Lady of Knock is August 21 and the feast of the Queenship of Mary on August 22. The pilgrimage season is not limited to just August 14 – 22, as planned visits by groups take place from May through October each year. The last Thursday of each month is also especially dedicated to invalids and a Mass with Anointing of the Sick is concelebrated.
When Our Lady appeared in 1879, the Irish were emerging out of a very dark night. Having proved their fidelity to the Mass - the sacrifice of Redemption, the people of that time were greatly consoled by Our Lady of Knock and rejoiced that their Mother had come to them. To the people of the present time, confronted with new trials of secularism and worldliness, the Apparition at Knock is a challenge. The urgent message of the necessity of worship at the Holy Mass must be proclaimed and believed. The externals are important, but they must be interiorized and personalized in the silence of the heart. Our Lady always calls us to closer union with Her Son, the Lamb upon the Throne. We must listen to her silent call at Knock. In traditional Irish Prayers Our Lady is often invoked as “Banaltra an Uain ghil bhain” (Nurse of the White Lamb), in reference to the Lamb upon the altar in the Apparition. Let us beseech Our Mother: “Nurse of the White Lamb, pray for us.”
Prayer to Our Lady of Knock:
Our Lady of Knock, Queen of Ireland, you gave hope to our people in a time of distress and comforted them in sorrow. You have inspired countless pilgrims to pray with confidence to your divine Son, remembering His promise: "Ask and you shall receive, Seek and you shall find". Help me to remember that we are all pilgrims on the road to heaven. Fill me with love and concern for my brothers and sisters in Christ, especially those who live with me. Comfort me when I am sick or lonely or depressed. Teach me how to take part ever more reverently in the holy Mass. Pray for me now, and at the hour of my death. Amen.
 Knock, Roots of Irish Spirituality, Benedict Langton, OCD, 1980, pg. 20
 Ibid, pg. 18
 The Glory of Knock, Msgr. Michael Walsh, 2009, pg. 10, published by Custodians of Knock Shrine.
 The Glory of Knock, Msgr. Michael Walsh, 2009, pg. 13, published by Custodians of Knock Shrine.
Father Hubert, O.F.M. Cap, http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?id=1204,