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Opportunity in Knock

Rico Gagliano Apr 6, 2007

Opportunity in Knock

Rico Gagliano Apr 6, 2007

PHOTOS: More photos from Knock


SCOTT JAGOW: There’s a little town in Ireland called Knock. Only 600 people live there, but every Easter weekend, Catholics from all over the world start pouring in to the village. You see, back in 1879, 15 of the townsfolk in Knock claimed to have seen an apparition of the Virgin Mary. Our own Rico Gagliano recently spent some time in Knock to see this miraculous little economy.

PRIEST: Hail Mary Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee . . .

RICO GAGLIANO: Inside the shrine at Knock, a priest leads a small congregation in prayer.

PRIEST: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name . . .

Outside the shrine at Knock, anyone in a mile radius can join in, thanks to loudspeakers blasting Our Fathers from the bell tower. It’s like Muslim calls to prayer in Saudi Arabia — except during Catholic prayers in Knock, the businesses don’t close.

Maybe that’s ’cause Knock’s business is religion. The only local industry is housing pilgrims, serving them or selling ’em stuff.

That’s what Tom Byrne does. He runs a religious souvenir shop, which might explain his method for counting Knock’s pilgrim population.

TOM BYRNE: A million and a half people come into the village every year. When I tell that to people, they say, ‘Impossible! How do you know that one and a half million people come into the village?’ Naturally enough, we don’t count them. But we have a very simple way: that a million pieces of holy communion are given out every summer.

Those pilgrims are drawn to Knock by the Apparition of 1879. But an economic miracle from the 1980s made it possible for them to come.

Robert Graelis, a director at Ireland West Airport, remembers.

ROBERT GRAELIS: Monsignor James Horan was the Parish Priest of Knock Shrine. He had the belief that there should be more pilgrims having easier access to the Shrine, but also he had a firm belief in the economy of the region, that it needed supports. And he felt that one of the main ways he could achieve both of those was by building an international airport in the middle of nowhere.

Literally. Horan’s Ireland West airport opened in 1986, on a bog, in the poorest province in the Emerald Isle. Everyone called it a boondoggle.

But it worked. Last year it brought more than 600,000 people — and their money — into Knock.

Tom Byrne thinks God might’ve played a role in all this.

BYRNE: Because it’s written in the Bible somewhere: “If it is by the hand of God, it shall succeed.” That seems to be a true statement as regards Knock.

Still, he says the town isn’t solely focused on heavenly business.

BYRNE: I try to go to mass every Sunday. Not that we’re extraordinarily religious in the village of Knock or anything. Still can maybe drink too much at times, maybe admire some other one’s wife when we shouldn’t have, or you know. . . so we’re normal people. So that’s about it.

In Knock, Ireland, I’m Rico Gagliano for Marketplace.

A service in the Basilica at Knock. On the wall is a representation of The Apparition of 1879 — in which a glowing Virgin Mary appeared one rainy night, along with several other biblical figures, as well as an altar, upon which was a lamb, over which were hovering angels. 15 townsfolk of all ages swore they saw it. After an extensive series of interviews, the Catholic church officially recognized it as a miracle.

Holy water from Knock for sale.

The basilica at Knock is the biggest structure in town. It’s surrounded by acres of grounds, including a museum, gardens, chapels, shops and temporary housing for aged and infirm pilgrims.

Shopkeep Tom Byrne with one of his wares: a statue of the Virgin Mary — or, as she’s called in Knock, “Our Lady of Knock.”

Photos by Rico Gagliano, Marketplace

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