Visiting Knock - What to See and Do
(Ireland West Airport Knock NOC, Ireland)
The tiny town of Knock in County Mayo, Western Ireland, was thrust into the Catholic limelight in 1879 when an apparition of the Virgin Mary accompanied by St. Joseph and St. John the Evangelist revealed itself in the south transept of the local church. This vision was seen by at least 15 villagers, and the little town is now one of the world's three most important Marian Shrines.
The vision was authenticated by the Catholic Church in Rome in 1936, and in 1979, the centenary of the apparition, the shrine was visited by Pope John Paul II, who said mass in front of a million and a half worshippers. In June 1933, Mother Theresa of Calcutta visited. Although over a million pilgrims come hear annually, Knock is still a small, quiet country town in County Mayo, with nothing much else to see.
County Mayo is remote from the tourist trail in the Republic of Ireland
and is a wild, mostly empty expanse of peaceful countryside with a few small towns, villages and attractions dotted around. Fishing is a popular occupation here, as are walking and horse riding, and County Mayo is as close as you will get to experiencing traditional Ireland unspoiled by the tourist-aimed clutter of the 21st century.
Ten things you must do in Knock
- Almost all visitors to Knock arrive as pilgrims to the Shrine of the Apparition, crowding out the tiny airport on the Feast Day of the Virgin Mary. There are a few hotels in Knock, and more in nearby Charlestown, but the area is not a tourist destination in the popular sense of the word.
- A visit to the Knock Museum tells all about the vision, with letters written by those who saw it on display, as well as pilgrims' stories about their visits and cures. The apparition is set out in the context of the tough 19th-century life in Ireland, and the museum itself is tastefully arranged as a series of small cottages.
- For a better understanding of what happened here, a guided tour of the shrine complex can be taken. The tour includes the beautiful, landscaped grounds, the Apparition Chapel, the Papal Cross, the Chapel of Reconciliation and the original gable wall of the little church where the vision appeared.
- Ballina is a small town, easily accessed from Knock Airport and located on the River Moy, near the estuary which merges into the lovely Killala Bay. It is a good base for exploring the wild seacoast and is popular with fishing enthusiasts for Ridge Pool, one of the finest salmon fishing spots in Europe.
- A trip to Castlebar, County Mayo's largest town, is of cultural interest for its many music, arts and traditional festivals. The well-supported Heart of Castlebar Festival every December is the main attraction, featuring street performers, street markets and Christmas carols.
- Nearby Knock, the tiny, totally traditional village of Cong was immortalised in the John Wayne / Maureen O'Hara movie 'The Quiet Man'. Nothing much as happened here since, but Pat Cohan's pub still welcomes strangers and the River Café serves great lunches. Perhaps a good reason for visiting Cong is that few people do!
- Walkers will love the Foxford Trail, leading through the hills to Foxford with its salmon-filled River Moy, annual Goat Fair and historic woollen mill. The Goat Fair first took place in 1683 and is a traditional livestock and general market, complete with a fairground and plenty of fun activities.
- For a fascinating day out roughly an hour from Knock, the National Museum of Ireland has a branch in Castlebar, County Mayo, set in Turlough Park. It is all about traditional Irish rural life between 1850 and 1950, displayed in an interesting series of settings containing original artefacts covering all the varied aspects of smallholding, farming and country living.
- For summer water sport attractions around Knock, such as canoeing, kayaking, trekking and hiking, there is nowhere better than Achill Island, set just offshore from the coast of County Mayo. Breathtaking mountainscapes, five Blue Flag beaches and natural, unspoiled beauty have drawn writers and artists here for decades. Sea fishing is a popular sport here too.
- The Georgian heart of the County Mayo town of Westport will delight architecture buffs, and the stately home of Lord Sligo, who commissioned the town centre as, amazingly, a workers' enclave, is close by. Carrowbeg River runs through the centre, crossed by stone bridges and with its banks lined with promenades.