Thousands await Knock Ireland’s New Virgin Mary vision
Pilgrims have travelled to a rain-soaked corner of western Ireland hoping to witness a miracle
* Henry McDonald, Ireland editor
* The Observer, Sunday 1 November 2009
They came from Wexford, Manchester and even India, driven on by the hope that in this rain-soaked corner of western Ireland the mother of God would appear to them this weekend.
All along Knock’s main street the pilgrims slept in vans and motor homes, all hoping to book a space near the site where a Dublin-based spiritual healer predicted the Virgin Mary would materialise.
Joe Coleman’s visions of a Marian apparition on the exact spot where villagers claimed they saw the Virgin Mary in 1879 have created a fervour across the Catholic world.
Coleman complained that the Catholic church had not made a priest available to recite the Rosary with him and the thousands gathered in waiting. Describing himself as “a visionary of our Blessed Mother”, he said the visitation would only be visible “to people who come with an open heart”.
With up to 10,000 pilgrims descending on the village, Coleman’s promise that Christ’s mother would appear through a “dancing sun” in the sky has at least given Knock’s economy an unexpected boost. At The Shrine bed and breakfast across the road from the Marian Shrine, built to commemorate the 19th-century apparition, the manager Nicola said all of their rooms were booked up on Friday evening.
Across the road, the O’Brien and Berry families from Co Wexford were bedding down for the night inside their van. Surrounded by her daughter Anne and grandsons, Martin and Luke, Alice Berry said that while she wanted see the Virgin Mary appear she was afraid of the message she would be bringing from heaven. “Of course I’m here to see Our Lady but I am worried about what she is going to say. I’m afraid she’s going to tell us something terrible,” said Alice.
The Berrys, like the most of those gathered this weekend beside the Knock shrine, are travellers. Their presence has illuminated the social chasm between them and the Republic’s settled majority.
Many of the travellers gathering inside the shrine’s grounds late on Friday complained that the public toilets had been locked and car parks blocked to prevent them from parking their vans, motor homes and caravans. They also pointed out that all of the pubs in the village have been shut and none were prepared to sell them carry-outs.
The shrine has its origins in the visions of a Miss Mary McLoughlin, the 45-year-old housekeeper, who on 21 August 1879 claimed to have seen on the south gable of Knock parish church “a wonderful number of strange figures; one like the blessed Virgin Mary and one like St. Joseph”. It wasn’t until 1936 and two commissions of inquiry before the Catholic church officially agreed that the visions were genuine. Sceptics have always argued that they were caused by the use of magic lanterns owned by a local police officer at the time.
While the Irish hierarchy maintains the 19th-century Knock apparitions were real it does not support Coleman’s claims. But despite urging caution, the Irish Catholic bishops have been unable to dissuade the thousands who came this weekend to wait for the Virgin Mary’s second coming to Mayo.
During the first “sighting” on 11 October, Coleman urged pilgrims to stare at the sun. Many of them claimed they saw clouds parting to reveal a bright sunlit image of a woman in white. Others, however, were more sceptical.
Before leaving the shrine yesterday, Coleman said the Virgin Mary had appeared but he was not yet prepared to reveal the message she had sent him for the world.