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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Monsignor James Horan

James Horan is born in Partry, County Mayo, on May 5, 1911. He is a parish priest of Knock, County Mayo. He is most widely known for his successful campaign to bring an airport to Knock, his work on Knock basilica, and is also credited for inviting Pope John Paul II to visit Knock Shrine in 1979.

Educated at St. Jarlath’s College, Tuam, Horan trains for the priesthood in St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. He is ordained in 1936, and his first post is in Glasgow, where he remains for three years. Having served as chaplain on an ocean liner and briefly in Ballyglunin, County Galway, he becomes curate in Tooreen, a small townland close to Ballyhaunis, County Mayo. While there, he organises the construction of a dance hall, which becomes a popular local amenity. He secures financing for the project by collecting £8,000 on a tour of American cities. After also serving in Cloonfad, County Roscommon, he is transferred to Knock in 1963, where he becomes parish priest in 1967. He is troubled by the struggles of daily life and mass emigration in the west of Ireland and he works to improve the living standards of the local community.

While stationed at Knock, Horan oversees the building of a new church for Knock Shrine, which is dedicated in 1976. The shrine is the stated goal of Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1979. The pope travels to Knock as part of a state visit to Ireland, marking the centenary of the famous Knock apparitions. Horan works with Judy Coyne to organise the papal visit. He is responsible for the refurbishment of the church grounds, along with the construction of a huge church, with a capacity of 15,000. This newly constructed church is given the status of basilica by the pope. The day after the papal visit, Horan begins his campaign to build an international airport in Barnacuige, a small village near Charlestown, County Mayo.

Critics regard the idea of an airport on a “foggy, boggy site” in Mayo as unrealistic, but funding is approved by then Taoiseach Charles Haughey, who performs the official opening in May 1986, five years after work commenced. Although Horan had secured IR£10,000,000 in funding from Haughey, following the Fianna Fáil party’s defeat in the general election of 1982, his funding is cut, with the airport unfinished. He raises the IR£4,000,000 shortfall by holding a “Jumbo Draw.” This large lottery succeeds in raising the required revenue, but only after a painstaking tour of several countries, including Australia and the United States. This takes its toll on the ageing Horan and leads to his death shortly after the completion of the airport. The airport is originally known as Horan International Airport, but is now officially referred to as Ireland West Airport Knock.

Horan dies on August 1, 1986 while on a pilgrimage to Lourdes, just a few months after the official opening of the airport. His remains are flown into Knock, the first funeral to fly into the airport he had campaigned for. He is buried in the grounds of the Knock Basilica. His life and work are chronicled in a musical written by Terry Reilly and local broadcaster Tommy Marren, entitled A Wing and a Prayer. It premières in The Royal Theatre in Castlebar, County Mayo, on November 25, 2010.


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Apparition at Church of Saint John the Baptist at Knock

knock-shrineOn the evening of Thursday, August 21, 1879, at about 8 o’clock, fifteen people, whose ages range from five to seventy-five and include men, women, teenagers, and children, witness what they state is an apparition of Our Lady, Saint Joseph, and Saint John the Evangelist at the south gable end of the local small parish church, the Church of Saint John the Baptist. Behind them and a little to the left of Saint John is a plain altar. On the altar is a cross and a lamb, a traditional image of Jesus as reflected in the religious phrase The Lamb of God, with adoring angels.

The Blessed Virgin Mary is described as being beautiful, standing a few feet above the ground. She wears a white cloak, hanging in full folds and fastened at the neck. Her crown appears of a golden brightness, of a deeper hue, than the striking whiteness of the robe she wears. The upper parts of the crown appear to be a series of sparkles, or glittering crosses. She is described as “deep in prayer,” with her eyes raised to heaven, her hands raised to the shoulders or a little higher, the palms inclined slightly to the shoulders.

Saint Joseph, also wearing white robes, stands on the Virgin’s right hand. His head is bent forward from the shoulders towards the Blessed Virgin. Saint John the Evangelist stands to the left of the Blessed Virgin. He is dressed in a long robe and wears a mitre. He is partly turned away from the other figures. He appears to be preaching and he holds open a large book in his left hand. To the left of St. John is an altar with a lamb on it. There is a cross standing on the altar behind the lamb.

Those who witness the apparition stand in the pouring rain for up to two hours reciting the Rosary, a series of traditional Catholic prayers. When the apparition begins there is good light, but although it then becomes very dark, witnesses can still see the figures very clearly – they appear to be the colour of a bright whitish light. The apparition does not flicker or move in any way. The witnesses report that the ground around the figures remains completely dry during the apparition although the wind is blowing from the south. Afterwards, however the ground at the gable becomes wet and the gable dark.

A number of cures and favours are associated with visitors to Our Lady of Knock’s Shrine and those who claim to have been cured here still leave crutches and sticks at the spot where the apparition is believed to have occurred.

Each Irish diocese makes an annual pilgrimage to the Marian Shrine and the nine-day Knock novena attracts ten thousand pilgrims every August.

While the original church still stands, a new Apparition chapel with statues of Our Lady, St. Joseph, the lamb, and St, John the Evangelist, has been built next to it. Knock Basilica is a separate building showing a tapestry of the apparition.