31 Mar Croagh Patrick
The brooding, conical outline of this mountain dominates the skyline all around southwest Mayo. It is associated with St Patrick, the site of his Lenten fast and legendary ‘Pied Piper’ act with the snakes. Each year, on the last Sunday in July, pilgrims make an arduous ascent, some barefoot.
On clear days, the summit gives magnificent views over Clew Bay to the Partry Mountains and Connemara. If you are sensibly shod, you can climb Croagh Patrick in a couple of hours.
Knock’s pedigree dates back over a century, when it was suddenly transformed from a humdrum little bog village into one of the most revered Marian shrines in Christendom. It is now the ‘Lourdes of Ireland’ with a vast new basilica, constantly thronged by pilgrims.
Its present high profile in the Catholic world is due in large part to the energies of a local priest, Monsignor James Horan. He battled with the authorities for an airport which, despite early descriptions as ‘a foggy, boggy white elephant’, has opened up the northwest region to tourist traffic since its eventual inauguration in 1986 , seven years after Pope John Paul II made a celebrated visit to Knock. The commercialised religiosity of innumerable souvenir stalls may offend the purist, but today Knock attracts more pilgrims than ever, around one and a half million a year.
On a dark and stormy night in 1879 two village women saw, on the gable of the parish church, an apparition of the Virgin Mary, with St Joseph and St John. It lasted a couple of hours, then faded away gradually, and the sight was confirmed by 13 other villagers. Witnesses were cross-examined by a commission of inquiry, and some 50 years later, three surviving witnesses were again independently interviewed, and firmly maintained every detail of what they had seen, giving an unnerving veracity to their story.
The original church still exists, the gable where the vision was seen is now preserved behind a glazed oratory. It has fine features inside, notably stained glass by Harry Clarke (1889-1931). The new hexagonal church, designed to hold a congregation of many thousands, was completed in 1976. Its 32 ambulatory pillars each contain stone from a different Irish county, and the windows represent the four provinces: Connaught, Leinster, Munster and Ulster.
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