"OUR LADY OF KNOCK, QUEEN OF IRELAND"

To fully understand the significance of the heavenly visitation of Our Blessed Mother in Ireland on August 21, 1879, one should be familiar with the conditions that faced the Irish in those dark days. Only then can you understand why Irish people the world over pay homage to "Our Lady of Knock."

By the middle 1800s, most of the fertile land in Ireland was in the hands of landlords, forcing the Irish to survive on smaller and smaller plots. It was a situation that forced dependence on the one crop that could produce maximum yield in minimum space - the potato. It was a boring diet to be sure, with no other produce to add to the plate, but it was nevertheless a healthy one, for potatoes are a remarkable source of necessary vitamins and minerals. Although they weren't starving, it was still a difficult time. Then on August 20, 1845, Dr. David Moore reported that potato fungus had been discovered at the Dublin Botanical Gardens. The following day August 21 is a date remembered in Irish history as the first day of An Gorta Mor - the Great Hunger - a tragedy that saw millions lost to emigration, disease, and starvation. Within the week, reports came in from all over Ireland that the potato crop had turned black in the ground.

Many starved in 1845 awaiting a more promising harvest in 1846, but it did not come. The potato crop of 1846 was totally destroyed, and the dying began en masse. People were forced to eat what little seed potato they had, and when 1847 came, there was nothing to plant. Many, who hadn't starved, fell victim to disease. When the sick and starving Irish could not pay their rent, they were evicted from their meager homesteads, and their property confiscated. As blight destroyed the crops of 1848, and 49, millions died of starvation and hunger-related disease on the roads alongside the prosperous farms of the landlords. Limited aid was finally provided, and a number of soup kitchens were set up, but in some, the cost of receiving food, was the surrender of their faith and conversion to the English Church. It was a price too high for many to pay and they turned their backs on the food rather than turn their backs on their God. And what did the landlords do? Why, they protected their crops from the hungry Irish until they were harvested, and then they exported them to England for profit. The government did little either, saying that the country was to be left to the effect of natural forces.

The world denounced the genocide being practiced against the Irish by England's non-intervention in the tragedy, so Parliament reacted by declaring the crisis officially over in 1849 following a visit to Ireland by Queen Victoria. But in 1849, and for years to come, the Hunger was not over! The lack of land or a living wage, food shortage, and disease continued to plague the Irish as those who'd emigrated struggled for a foothold in far away lands. It would be a generation before many could establish themselves in those lands, and send anything back to the loved ones they'd left behind, but eventually money from America, Europe, Australia, and other lands did trickle in, and the tide began to turn. In the end, almost all of the generation, who suffered, were gone before its effects were. It was only then that the Great Hunger was truly over. The consensus among historians is that the process took another 30 years, for in 1879, the Irish began their recovery with the establishment of the National Land League in Co. Mayo.

Another significant event in that watershed year occurred in a small village in the west of Ireland. On a rainy evening, a trio of heavenly visitors appeared at the Church of St. John the Baptist in the village of Knock, County Mayo. It had been an area hard hit by the hunger, and few residents were left in the parish, but on that evening, a small group of them witnessed the astonishing vision. At the side of the church, three figures, surrounded by a mysterious glowing light, suddenly appeared; beside them was an altar on which rested a cross and a lamb surrounded by adoring angels. The witnesses knew immediately that they were in the presence of St. Joseph, St. John and the Queen of Heaven. They couldn't believe what they were seeing. Word spread, and shortly, others from the area came, and saw it too. No such heavenly visitation had ever been reported in Ireland, and the people fell to their knees and prayed, oblivious of the soaking rain. The figures remained, hovering silently, a few feet above the ground, for nearly two hours, and then vanished as suddenly as they had appeared. The local parish priest reported the incident, and an intensive investigation was launched. In 1939, after years of examination and enquiry, the apparition at Knock was granted canonical sanction by Rome. From hundreds of visions reported, it is one of only ten to have received such recognition, and it ranks with Lourdes and Fatima as a holy site of pilgrimage. Yet, it is the only appearance of the Virgin during which she remained silent - why? There have been many who questioned the fact that Mary said nothing, and only stood praying. Praying for what; praying for whom? Is there a clue in the timing of the visit? There may be.

Consider that the effects of the Great Hunger were not over for 30 years after the Crown had declared it ended in August 1849; Mary appeared in August of 1879 - exactly 30 years later to the month! And, she appeared on August 21, the exact anniversary of the first day of the Great Hunger! Coincidence? or is it possible that since the Irish people had suffered so much for their faith, the Lord, in appreciation, asked his beloved mother to visit them as a sign of hope, and that she, as any mourner would, stood in silent prayer for those who had fallen victim to An Gorta Mor. Think of it, the timing is incredible. Not only is August 21 significant, but the year 1879 was truly the end of the great hunger, for the Irish began taking their land back from the landlords. The most ironic part however, is that a 30-year-old proclamation had at last come true. Remember the claim that THE FAMINE IS FINALLY OVER AS THE QUEEN VISITS IRELAND? Well the famine was finally over, and the Irish had received a visit from the only queen that they'd ever acknowledged.

Millions have visited Knock since 1879 and numerous miracles have been reported at the shrine. The Catholic people of Ireland, who struggled so hard to keep their faith alive had received a visit from heaven, and the Blessed Virgin Mary had received a new title - Our Lady of Knock, Queen of Ireland.