John Curry, who later in life immigrated to the United States, was just five-years-old when he and 14 others saw Our Lady in the County Mayo village. Curry gave his testimony about the wet August night over 135 years ago to a church investigation in 1937. Economic circumstance in Ireland forced Curry to emigrate to England and then on to the United States.
The Archbishop, who is currently on a visit to Knock to officially open the annual novena, said, “We are thinking about moving the grave to St Patrick's – wouldn't that be beautiful?”
Dolan told the Irish Independent that when Father Richard Gibbons, the parish priest of Knock visited New York, he visited John Curry’s grave.
“He was a little worried. He said it was obvious that the grave was old and that people had not been visiting it. I said we should move him to St Patrick's, explained Dolan.
The story of August 21, 1879 is one that’s told over and over. The story goes that Mary McLoughlin, the housekeeper to the parish priest of Knock, was astonished to see the outside south wall of the church bathed in a mysterious light; there were three figures standing in front of the wall, which she mistook for replacements of the stone figures destroyed in a storm.
She rushed through the rain to her friend Margaret Byrne's house. After a half hour, Mary decided to leave, and Margaret's sister agreed to walk home with her.
As they passed the church they saw an amazing vision very clearly: standing out from the gable and to the west of it appeared the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph and St. John. The figure of Mary was life sized, while the others seemed to be neither as large nor as tall.
They stood a little away from the gable wall, about two feet from the ground. The Virgin was erect with her eyes toward Heaven, and she was wearing a large white cloak hanging in full folds. On her head was a large crown.
Mary Byrne ran to tell her family while Mary McLoughlin gazed at the apparition. Soon a crowd of fifteen gathered, young and old, and all saw the apparition. The parish priest, Archdeacon Cavanaugh, did not come out, however, and his absence was a disappointment to the devout villagers.
Among the witnesses were Patrick Hill and John Curry. As Patrick later described the scene: “The figures were fully rounded, as if they had a body and life. They did not speak but, as we drew near, they retreated a little towards the wall.” Patrick reported that he got close enough to make out the words in the book held by the figure of St. John.
An old woman named Bridget Trench drew closer to embrace the feet of the Virgin, but the figure seemed always beyond reach. Others out in the fields and some distance away saw a strange light around the church. The vision lasted for about three hours and then faded.
The next day, a group of villagers went to see the priest, who accepted the their report as genuine. He wrote to the diocesan Bishop of Tuam, then the Church set up a commission to interview a number of the people who claimed to have witnessed the apparition.
The diocesan hierarchy was not convinced, and some members of the commission ridiculed the visionaries, alleging they were victims of a hoax perpetrated by the local Protestant constable. But the ordinary people were not so skeptical, and the first pilgrimages to Knock began in 1880. Two years later Archbishop John Joseph Lynch of Toronto made a visit to the parish and claimed he had been healed by the Virgin of Knock.
This year the annual novena is expected to attract up to 150,000 visitors over the nine days through August 22.
Dolan arrived at Knock with 165 American pilgrims for a week-long visit.
The archbishop said, “I told our people from the beginning, 'We're not tourists – this is a pilgrimage.'"
The American pilgrims had Mass at Lough Derg, where they spent half a day instead of the traditional three days.
"The day was so raw and cold that our people got a good hint of the mortification and the self-denial associated with Lough Derg," said Dolan. They then went on to the Dingle Peninsula, where they had a “glorious” day. The group has also visited Listowel and Killarney Cathedral.