On 21 August 1879, fifteen people witnessed an apparition of the Blessed Virgin, Saint Joseph and Saint John the Evangelist on a wall of the Church of Saint John the Baptist, in Knock, County Mayo.
Regardless of what was actually behind the event, 137 years later, 1.5m pilgrims make the journey to Knock each year. In 1979, Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass there, as well as praying at the apparition wall. Mother Teresa even visited. In 1985, this small village even got its own airport.
I mention this because I want you to spare a thought for the Bog Chapel in Kilmallock, County Limerick - and all the other small, rural Irish churches you’ve never heard of - whose own strange events came in the shadow of the events in Knock.
The following comes from The Derry Journal of 15 September 1880.
The Catholic Church near Kilmallock, known as the Bog Chapel, in which supernatural appearances are stated to have been seen on more than one occasion during the past week, is nightly resorted to by hundreds. Respectable and intelligent persons allege that they have seen distinctly apparitions of the Blessed Virgin.
On Saturday night there could not have been less than eight hundred people at the church. Preaching on the gospel of the day at the church, the Rev. Mr Fitzgerald, one of the clergymen, impressed upon the extraordinarily large congregation present the obligation of loving and adoring above and before all things God in the blessed Sacrament. He told them that in the fervour and enthusiasm of their devotion to His Blessed Mother they should always bear in mind that great precept. At the same time he told them that there was no surer or better means of obtaining grace from God than through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin.
The parish priest, the Rev. Mr Clory, fearing an accident might result from overcrowding, has deemed it advisable to close up the building every evening at 6 o’clock, but the people congregated outside. Whether the weather be inclement or otherwise they keep watching for hours together, reciting the rosary and litany of the Blessed Virgin.
During the whole time the most intense religious fervour prevails. The clergymen generally leave the church as soon as the doors are closed, but the majority of the people remain until midnight, and many do not leave for their homes until morning is breaking.
A labourer named Torpey, a very intelligent man of his class, states that on Wednesday week he saw lights distinctly in the church at the Blessed Virgin’s altar like stars. On returning from the church some of the party who were with him saw something like stars in the trees. He also saw them. They then went on their knees and recited the rosary. The man who offered up the rosary then asked, if it was God’s will, that they should be favoured with some manifestation such as was seen elsewhere by other people.
The word, he says, was not out of his mouth, when the whole yard shone with a frightful light, and he never saw anything like it before. He went into the chapel every night since, but he did not see either lights or figures, though others state they have seen them.
A tree in which the lights are stated to have been originally seen has been chopped to bits by the country people in order that they might take pieces away.
- The Derry Journal, 15 September 1880