Tuesday, August 23, 2016


As soon as I saw the two co-producers, Rachel Lysaght and Lindsay Campbell, doing their own postering I knew we were in for an intimate hands on experience.

Cinema 2 in the Lighthouse complex

I had never been to the Lighthouse cinema in Smithfield before and I was pleasantly surprised at how spacious and modernistic the complex turned out to be. I'm obviously way behind the times and was thinking in terms of some pokey arty place.

The occasion was a pre-screening of the film documentary Strange Occurrences in an Irish Village. This is the story of Knock as it is and as told by those most closely associated with it. These included descendants of those who claimed to have seen the apparition, the Parish Priest, pilgrims and handmaidens.

It started with the descendants reading from the witness statements of their forebears. This gave the story a great sense of intimacy and conviction from the word go.

You could immediately imagine the scene as reported by the witnesses, free of modern interpretation, but still subject to the intermediation of the church authorities of their day.

The only thing that remained the same as it had been when I used to frequent Knock in the 1950s was the blessing of the holy water in its water tank. Then it was a relatively small operation but it is now on an industrial scale feeding many outlets in the grounds.

One of the participants referred to a rumour that Knock water was not blessed and assured us it was. The thought would never have occurred to me. But for the avoidance of doubt we were shown the Parish Priest doing the needful in the attic of the Basilica (above).

The current PP, Father Richard Gibbons, has only been there since 2012, but to listen to him you'd think he'd been there all his life. By all accounts he is a doer and has done loads since his appointment, including a major revamp of the Basilica and attracting two USA pilgrimages complete with their Cardinals, Timothy Dolan from New York and Seán Patrick O'Malley from Boston.

Whatever about O'Malley, who is a Capuchin Friar, Timothy Dolan has all the false bonhomie of a sleazeball. That said, if he brings business to Knock who am I to poop the party.

The film shows him as Grand Marshall of New York's St. Patrick's day parade where he pitches himself somewhere between pope and emperor.

Apart from the massive built complex, which almost reduces the original church to insignificance, the big change from my day is the onset of large scale theatre and pageantry. This struck me very much in the sequence showing the recent unveiling of the huge apparition mosaic in the basilica - a mix of religious ceremony with a flock of bishops in top gear and a very theatrical procession of those representing the lay people who actually saw the apparition.

A High Mass was the pinnacle of clerical theatre in my day.

But it is in the more personal and intimate moments that this film excels. It does not interpose commentary but lets those concerned speak for themselves. Of course that only works with the help of some skillful editing and this is evident throughout the film. Production, direction and editing are unobtrusive and very effective and you come away with the feeling that you have shared moments of intimacy with the participants.

Some of the descendants have a range of shops which compete with one another in selling religious goods. The man in the picture above gave us a bit of the old time religion which reminded me of the more outrageous pamphlets in the Veritas range of old - The Devil at Dances and What is Hell and the like. In the case above it was Purgatory which was being threatened on us but there was also a place for Hell in the learned theological discourse.

Each Hail Mary bead on the rosary around his neck had a mini reproduction embryo inside. This was not only to counter repeal of the eighth amendment but also seemed to have a particular role in promoting fertility. Amazing stuff.

As against that Pio Flatley, above, was a rock of sense and realised that people, and that included Knock, had to move with the times.

I enjoyed this film immensely, for the memories of Knock it brought back, for its revealing of today's Knock in all its complexity and for its excellent production values.

I said all that to Rachel Lysaght, above, after the showing and I think she was pleased at the general audience reaction.

If you get the chance do go and see this well crafted film. It will provoke, entertain and inform you. And, who knows, it might even get you down to Knock at some stage.

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