The story of Knock

First cure in Knock, the Nun of Kenmare, the man who was cursed from the altar .. all in ...The story of Knock

Archdeacon Cavanagh of Knock was under a threat of having his ears cut off on the evening of the Apparition on the 21st August, 1879. In the weeks leading up to the famous evening, he was regarded by many parishioners as having sided with the landlords in the ongoing agitation caused by the formation of the Land League. They were trying and difficult times in the rural countryside.

Earlier in 2002, Tom Jennings from Ballyhowley, Knock published a book entitled “The story of Knock”. The 56 pages relates some of the history of the parish, memories from the Famine, tenant farmers, tradesmen of the past, the Land League, the Apparition at Knock, the background to ‘Fulachta Fiadh’ a one page reflection on Dr. Noel Browne, and a few pages on the story of the Nun of Kenmare.
Tom’s great-grandfather came from Ballinrobe and his mother’s grandfather was from Westport. He recalls: “Pat Cunnane was my great-grandfather and he had two horses and two carts and he transported oats, which was grown by the farmers locally to the docks in Westport - a distance of 24 Irish miles and on the return journey he transported seaweed.

“The oats was sold to pay the rent and the seaweed was used to fertilise the land in the locality. Pat Cunnane also had another very important job as he was secretary to the Parish Priest of Knock, Archdeacon Cavanagh, and every spare moment that he had was spent doing administration for the Parish Priest.’

The formation of the Land League was a time of social unrest in the country as the people rose up against the tyranny of the landlord system and put in place a movement which had huge consequences for the people of his island.

“On the 30th May (1879) a crowd of these Whiteboys or Ribbonmen, or some of them, came along into Knock on horseback with bugles blowing. The whole congregation left the church and attended a meeting at the crossroads where Burke’s pub is (on the Claremorris Road),” says Tom in his book.
“A ‘monster indignation meeting’ was held in protest against a sermon given by Archdeacon Cavanagh in his parish church (on Sunday 30th May). He had tried to suppress a gathering organised by local farmers looking for rent reduction ‘because of the present depression.’ The tenants complained that he acted ‘for the purpose if shielding certain landlords who were not inclined to accede to just and reasonable demands.”

“The Archdeacon was accused of suggesting that the organisers of the protest had ‘sinister and ulterior motives’ and were ‘preparing the country for revolution’. Warning the priest “not to stand between the people and their rights,” the tenants complained “well accustomed as they were to hear their motives maligned and misrepresented by their enemies, it was with pain and sorrow that they heard these misrepresentations from a quarter from which they expected protection and support.”
“Because of his pro Landlord stance, Archdeacon Cavanagh was threatened with his ears being cut off on the very evening of the Apparition at Knock on the 21st August 1979.”

Tom relates that the first recorded cure at Knock was on the 31st August 1879, just ten days after the Apparition. “A girl aged twelve years was cured while attending Mass at Knock. Her parents Mr and Mrs. PJ Gordon of Claremorris, attested that Delia had suffered intensely all her life from deafness and violent pains in her left ear. Several times each week they had to get up in the night to try and relieve the awful pain by various remedies. She was stone deaf and for years used the deaf and dumb alphabet.

“Her parents took her on pilgrimage to Knock and while attending Mass there, the pain attacked Delia so badly she began to cry and Mrs. Gordon had to bring her outside where they knelt in prayer before the place where the Apparition was seen. Mrs. Gordon picked out a piece of cement from the gable, made the sign of the cross over it and placed it on the afflicted ear. Almost immediately the pain completely disappeared never to return and no trace of deafness remained.

“Her general health improved rapidly and in a very short time she became the picture of health and strength. This was the first recorded cure in the Archdeacon’s diary.

“In 1946, Michael Gordon, brother of Miss Delia Gordon, confirmed in detail the account of his sister’s cure. He added that she later went to America and after a few years became head cashier in a large department store. Delia died in 1930 and from the day she was cured at Knock to her death she treasured the piece of cement taken from the gable wall of the church by her mother.”

The story of an unfortunate man who was ‘cursed’ from the altars in Knock and Aughamore is recorded in ‘The story of Knock’. Tom Jennings documents what he says is a true story and may be a ‘warning to those who do not believe in the power given to catholic priests.’

“This happened publicly and was known to hundreds. A certain man from the parish of Knock whose wife died and his sister-in-law kept house for him and his two sons. He got her into trouble which he thought he could make all right by getting married to her.

“On the day Revd. Pat O’Grady was riding by his house - he went and spoke to him and told him he wanted to get married to his housekeeper. So the priest married the two, for he had authority at the time from the bishop. Other parishes had to apply to him for certificates for marriage.

“They were married in the parishioner’s house before witnesses. After the marriage the Parish Priest found out from his curate that a relationship existed between the pair. They were in-laws and the Parish Priest was not too happy about this.

“He ordered his horse directly and rode out to this particular gentleman’s house and called on him and told him to send the woman away immediately, throwing the marriage money to him, telling him it was no marriage, and he told him if he did not send her away he would be cursed from the altar on the Sunday’ following in Knock and Aughamore.

“But the man would not send her away and Fr. Pat did curse both him and her with bell, book and candle as the old saying goes.

“When mass was over, Fr. Pat O’Grady told the congregation not to leave the church for he said he had a painful duty to perform, and that he should be neglecting his duty to God if he did not do it. So he went out into the sacristy and took off his vestments and returned to the altar, unbuttoned his knee breeches, turned down his stocking so his bare knee was on the altar step.

“Then he rang the big hand-bell and put the candles out in the holy water. Then he gave his curse to the gentleman and his wife. He afterwards turned to the people and told them not to believe there was a God in heaven if that man was alive that day 12 months, if he did not send the woman away.
“There was a mist in the church at the time and the entire congregation were terror-stricken as well as saddened by the outburst by the priest. The particular gentleman did not send the woman away, but lived with her.

“Before the 12 months were at an end he went away up the country to a fair to buy a horse and put up at an inn for the night after buying the animal. So before going to bed he went to the stable to see that the horse was all right, and the saying goes that the horse kicked the man to death or at the least he died that night or the next morning.”

The story of the Nun of Kenmare (Margaret Anna Cusack 1829-1899) has been told before but is an interesting one which is still recalled by some of the older folk around Knock to this day. Tom includes reflections on the story in his book.

She entered the Poor Clares in Newry, Co Down at the age of 30 and left Kenmare for Knock on the 16th November, 1881. Mother Clare was 52 at the time of her arrival in Knock and in poor health.
It was her ambition to found a Convent in Knock but she soon ran into difficulties with Archdeacon Cavanagh and Archbishop McEvilly of Tuam. Many obstacles were put in her way.

She had a major encounter with Archdeacon Cavanagh in relation to the case of a deaf and dumb boy who was being exhibited to pilgrims as a miraculous cure. She investigated the matter and discovered that the boy had been neither deaf nor dumb but was born with a speech impediment.

“She complained to the Archdeacon and accused him of allowing the mother and boy to stay at Knock at the expense of the pilgrims and also of extorting large sums of money from the pilgrims, by exhibiting the boy as ‘miraculously cured’.

“She reported this to the Archdeacon and she also offended him by not inviting him to manage her convent school. This proved so deep an affront that it was to cause her own downfall in Knock. She received another threatening letter stating that her life was in danger. She said it was sent by a prominent ‘dynamiter’ who, over his own signature, warned her that she had better give up all thoughts of industrial work in Ireland until it is a settled country.”

She left Knock on the 1st November, 1883 and moved to the Diocese of Nottingham. She later established the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace. The ‘Nun of Kenmare’ died in Spa, Warwickshire in 1899.
Tom is pleased with the reaction to the publication. “I have had letters from America and England from people who enjoyed the book. I am very pleased with how people view it.”

Tom resides with his wife Noreen (nee Johnston) in the family home at Ballyhowley, a mile and half from Knock Church. They raised a family of seven, four boys and three girls.

“The Story of Knock” by Tom Jennings retails at £10 and is available in local shops in Knock and Claremorris. Copies may also be had from Tom by contacting him at Ballyhowley, Knock, or phone 094-883333.

Courtesy of Michael Commins and the Western People