Knock Shrine looks forward to July events

Ed Forry

Boston’s Cardinal Archbishop Sean O’Malley will lead an archdiocesan pilgrimage to Ireland in July for the rededication of the shrine in Knock, Co. Mayo, according to a report in the Irish Independent newspaper on Jan. 26. The cardinal will celebrate mass at the Marian site on Sun., July 17, the newspaper said.

According to the report, the cardinal welcomed the announcement, saying: “The archdiocese of Boston is blessed and strengthened by the faith of the Irish Catholic community here and also that of our many friends and relations in Ireland. We look forward to parishioners from the archdiocese and people from many walks of life coming together as we journey in pilgrimage to the Shrine at Knock this coming July for the rededication of Our Lady’s Basilica.”

Fr. Richard Gibbons, parish priest and rector of Knock Shrine, said that he was delighted he will be able to welcome O’Malley for the pilgrimage this year. He has “very strong western connections and once again their visit with so many pilgrims shows the possibilities of pilgrimage growth and the strategic importance of Ireland West Airport to the future of Ireland’s National Marian Shrine,” said Gibbons.

Crystal Travel and Tours, the West Roxbury-based travel agency that has long specialized in travel to Ireland, has organized a one-time round trip charter flight from Logan Airport, non-stop to Ireland West Airport at Knock, according to Jim Kelly, the agency’s founder. The flight, an Aer Lingus charter, will leave Boston on July 14 and return on July 21, he said.

Kelly says he is offering all-inclusive seven-day packages, including motor coach escorted tours of Mayo, Donegal, and Galway at a price beginning at $2,995. One package, called the “Boston Gathering,” is being hosted by Richie Gormley, “The Lord Mayor of West Roxbury,” Kelly said.

For most Americans, the charter flight offers a first-time chance to fly into Ireland West at Knock, the Emerald Isle’s newest airport. Established in 1985, the facility is located in Mayo, just 3.5 miles from the town of Charlestown, and 12.5 miles from the village of Knock.

The airport is the brainchild of a Mayo priest, Msgr. James Horan, who conceived of the idea of building a place where pilgrims could conveniently fly into to visit the shrine where, Catholics believe, there had been an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1879. Horan began an intense lobbying campaign to persuade the Irish government to build the airport on a hill in the bogs, to the point of raising almost one million dollars by means of a lottery drawing. His efforts were chronicled in a memorable report telecast by CBS News’s “60 Minutes” team. The airport initially was named Horan International Airport, but the priest died shortly after the airport opened in 1986, and the facility took on a new name.
Knock ShrineKnock Shrine
Not a busy place, Knock is convenient for air travelers to and from the northwest, including Mayo, Sligo, and Donegal. It is served mostly by small regional jet and short-haul passenger planes. Although travel agents have organized one-off charter flights from the US, the July flight by Crystal Travel will mark the first time an Aer Lingus charter will fly there from Boston, and Irish tourism officials hope it’s a sign of increased tourism in the future.

According to the Irish Independent, Joe Kennedy, chairman of Ireland West Airport Knock, said the flight was another “stepping stone” in securing regular transatlantic services for the airport. “Today’s announcement is even more historic given the airport will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the official opening in May of this year. We look forward to welcoming our Boston visitors to the West of Ireland next July,” he said.

 Meanwhile, Brian O’Dwyer, International Chair of Ireland West Airport Knock, said: “This is a further important step in opening the West of Ireland to tourism and to travel from the Irish in the diaspora. I congratulate both Aer Lingus and the staff of the airport for making this possible.”