story of Knock
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.
Toms great-grandfather came from Ballinrobe and his
mothers 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
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
Burkes 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 Archdeacons
In 1946, Michael Gordon, brother of Miss Delia Gordon,
confirmed in detail the account of his sisters 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 OGrady 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
They were married in the parishioners 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 gentlemans 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
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 OGrady 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
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
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
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
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
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