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


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Pope John Paul II’s Visit to Ireland

pope-john-paul-iiPope John Paul II becomes the first pontiff to set foot on Irish soil with his pastoral visit to the Republic of Ireland beginning on September 29, 1979. Over 2.5 million people attend events in Dublin, Drogheda, Clonmacnois, Galway, Knock, Limerick, and Maynooth during what is one of Pope John Paul’s first foreign visits. The visit is occasioned by the centenary of the reputed apparition of Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, and Saint John the Evangelist in Knock, County Mayo.

An Aer Lingus Boeing 747, named the St. Patrick, brings Pope John Paul II from Rome to Dublin Airport. The Pope kisses the ground as he disembarks. After being greeted by the President of Ireland, Dr. Patrick Hillery, the Pope flies by helicopter to the Phoenix Park where he celebrates Mass for 1,250,000 people, one quarter of the population of the island of Ireland, one third of the population of the Republic of Ireland. Afterwards he travels to Killineer, near Drogheda, where he leads a Liturgy of the Word for 300,000 people, many from Northern Ireland. There the Pope appeals to the men of violence, “on my knees I beg you to turn away from the path of violence and return to the ways of peace.” The Pope has hopes of visiting Armagh, but the security situation in Northern Ireland renders it impossible. Drogheda is selected as an alternative venue as it is situated in the Catholic Archdiocese of Armagh. Returning to Dublin that evening, the Pope is greeted by 750,000 people as he travels in an open top popemobile through the city centre and visits Aras an Uachtarain, the residence of the Irish President.

The Pope begins the second day of his tour with a short visit to the ancient monastery at Clonmacnois in County Offaly. With 20,000 in attendance, he speaks of how the ruins are “still charged with a great mission.” Later that morning he celebrates a Youth Mass for 300,000 at Ballybrit Racecourse in Galway. It is here that the Pope utters perhaps the most memorable line of his visit, “Young people of Ireland, I love you.” That afternoon, he travels by helicopter to Knock Shrine in County Mayo which he describes as “the goal of my journey to Ireland.” The outdoor Mass at the shrine is attended by 450,000. The Pope meets with the sick and elevates the church to the title of Basilica.

The final day of the visit begins with a trip to St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, the National Seminary, in County Kildare. Some 80,000 people pack the grounds of the college for the brief visit. A dense fog delays the Pope’s arrival from Dublin by helicopter. The final Mass of the Pope’s visit to Ireland is celebrated at Greenpark Racecourse in Limerick before 400,000 people, many more than had been expected. The Mass is offered for the people of Munster. Pope John Paul leaves Ireland from nearby Shannon Airport travelling to Boston where we begins a six-day tour of the United States.


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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.