The most famous Marian apparition in Irish history was140 years ago in the small Mayo village of Knock when a girl witnessed three life-sized figures standing by the gable of the church grounds. About 1.5million people visit the shrine at Knock every year. Pope Francis has elevated the National Sanctuary of Our Lady of Knock to the status of an International Shrine of Eucharistic and Marian Devotion. He described it as an ‘important moment in the life of the shrine’ and ‘a great responsibility’.
However there have been other apparitions in our own locality, one in Bessbrook in County Armagh when in 1987, a teenager and a woman began to have visions of the Virgin Mary at the Lady of Lourdes shrine. It was similar to the Melleray Grotto where the visions continued over several days. Another, The Windy Gap Apparition in Gransha Co Down was one I grew up knowing about. It took place in October in 1954, the same year that had been declared a Marian Year by Pope Pius XII. An eight-year-old boy was tending cattle on his father’s small hill farm when the Virgin Mary appeared to him. Around 120 people are reported as seeing the vision as well and to this day locals are very protective of the site.
A lot of grottos in Ireland are in out of way places but a visit to them will give you a sense of peace and renewal. The continuing devotion to Marian shrines in Ireland and the ever-increasing numbers of Irish Catholics making pilgrimages to them shows that there is still validity that Catholicism remains a key part of who we are. Our devotion to the Virgin Mary is a means to express, maintain and even defend this. Some of the sites around Ireland have not yet have official recognition but it takes an individual of an extraordinary and genuine faith and belief to have the courage to share that faith openly with the wider world. To all those who share their beliefs, experiences, and
stories we owe a debt of gratitude.
During our absence from formal visits to churches during the pandemic, many of the symbols and sites of the faith of our youth have gained a renewed significance. Shrines have been a place of sanctuary for us to dwell on our faith. They have provided us space for a quiet prayer or the Rosary and reminded us of Mary’s continued care for us
The words from the Our Lady of Knock Prayer are so relevant today, ‘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’,
The Rosary on the Coast for Life and Faith will take place this year on Sunday October 10th at 2.30pm. People are encouraged to gather at grottos and other suitable places. Official locations for the Rosary can be found atwww.coastalrosaryireland.ie