Knock‌ ‌Shrine‌ ‌In‌ ‌Mayo‌: The Story Of The Apparition (+ What To Do In Knock)

Photo left: A G Baxter. Photo right: Panda17 (Shutterstock)

Religious or not, visiting a modern-day shrine is a fascinating thing to do, and Knock Shrine in County Mayo offers plenty for the interested day tripper.

Knock is arguably one of the more iconic Mayo attractions, and people have been visiting the town from across the world since the 19th century after an apparition was reported.

In the guide below, you’ll discover the history of Knock, the story of the apparition and you’ll find info on the tour and other things to do nearby.

Some quick need-to-knows about Knock Shrine in Mayo

visiting Knock museum
Photo by A G Baxter (Shutterstock)

Although a visit to Knock Shrine in Mayo is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.

1. Location

You’ll find Knock Shrine in the village of Knock in Mayo, a 45-minute drive from the lively town of Westport. Today, it welcomes more than 1 million visitors every year, many of them pilgrims.

2. The Apparition

Knock Shrine came to prominence in the late 19th century after villagers reported seeing an apparition at the church. 

3. Opening hours

Knock Parish Church is open for private prayer from 1pm to 6pm daily (note: opening hours may change).

4. Tours

You can take guided tours of the Knock Shrine as outlined further down, but there are self-guided audio handsets available to hire for €3. There are trigger posts scattered throughout the grounds and by pointing the guide at the posts, you’ll hear commentary. Hire of the guides includes a complementary visit to the museum.

5. The museum

Knock Museum tells the compelling story of the apparition and the 15 people who witnessed it. The museum also details the story of Knock from its earliest days and you’ll be able to look at a historical model of the village showing what it looked like on the day of the apparition in 1879.

6. Mass times

Currently, all masses are taking part online. From Monday to Saturday, mass is held at 2pm, then 7pm for the rosary and 7.30pm for mass. On Sundays, during the pilgrimage season, mass is at 12pm, the rosary at 2.30pm, mass at 3pm, 7pm the rosary and 7.30pm mass (times may change).

The story of Knock Shrine: The apparition and the investigation

Knock Shrine history
Photo by Thoom (Shutterstock)

Knock Shrine is a site where observers noted the appearance of an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, Saint John the Evangelist, angels, and Jesus Christ (the Lamb of God) in 1879.

The evening of 21 August 1879 had been very wet, and Knock’s villagers retreated to their homes to take shelter after a day’s gathering in of the harvest. At about 8pm, villager Mary Byrne and the priest’s housekeeper, Mary McLoughlin, were returning home when Byrne stopped suddenly.

She claimed to see three life-size figures at the gable of the Church of Saint John the Baptist and ran home to tell her parents.

Other witnesses gathered, claiming to see an apparition of Our Lady, Saint Joseph and Saint John the Evangelist at the south gable end of the church. Behind them was a plain altar upon which was a cross and a lamb with angels. 

The investigation

In October 1879, the Archbishop of Tuam, Most Rev. Dr John MacHale established an ecclesiastical commission of inquiry, consisting of the Irish scholar and historian, Canon Ulick Bourke, Canon James Waldron, and the parish priest of Ballyhaunis and Archdeacon Bartholomew Aloysius Cavanagh. 

They took statements from each of the witnesses and determined that no natural causes could have been mistaken for the apparition. The commission concluded that the testimony of the witnesses as a whole was satisfactory and trustworthy.

The expansion of railways at the time, and the growth in local and national newspapers created interest in the village and Knock was developed as a national Marian pilgrimage site.

Things to do at Knock Shrine

what to see near Knock Shrine
Photo left: A G Baxter. Photo right: Panda17 (Shutterstock)

There are a handful of things to do in Knock that make it well-worth a visit, especially if you’re staying in Castlebar (30 minutes away), Ballina (40 minutes away) or Newport (50 minutes away).

1. Take a guided tour

Let the experts tell you the story of the Knock Shrine and point out what you should look out for. The tour takes you through the grounds and visits all the places of interest, such as the Apparition Chapel and the original gable wall, the Papal Cross and the Chapel of Reconciliation. 

You will also hear about the witnesses’ testimonies. Those witnesses who were still alive in the 1930s gave evidence once more, confirming their original stories. The guided tours are available on request for groups of 10 and upwards.

2. Discover the story at the museum

When you arrive, start your visit at Knock Museum. It details the unique story of Knock, covering more than 140 years of history, and shows how the site went on to become such a popular pilgrimage, with more than 1 million people travelling there every year.

3. Stroll around the grounds

Knock Shrine is set in over 100 acres, and the gardens are around the Apparition Chapel, which is at the heart of Knock. The grounds have lots of benches where you can sit and admire the views, and every year the gardens are replanted with seeds, making them especially beautiful in the summer months.

There is also a wide variety of native Irish trees including mature oaks, copper beeches, ash, birch and rowan. Visit in September and October for stunning autumn leaves displays.

4. Keep an eye out for the artwork

As you might expect, Knock Shrine has some magnificent artwork on show. The Apparition mosaic is a representation of the evening of 21 August 1879 and features more than 1.5 million individual pieces of coloured glass.

The mosaic is one of the largest of its kind in Europe and is based on an artistic representation by the Irish illustrator, PJ Lynch.

The Stations of the Cross in the Basilica were created by Ger Sweeney. Large raw linen panels are said to encourage contemplative engagement in the final journey of Christ on earth.

Things to see and do near Knock in Mayo

One of the beauties of Knock is that it’s a short spin away from many of the best places to visit in Mayo.

Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from Knock Shrine (plus places to eat and where to grab a post-adventure pint!).

1. McMahon Park (13-minute drive)

McMahon Park
Photo via Clare Lake / McMahon Park on Facebook

McMahon Park is a nine-acre park on the south side of Claremorris. It’s a great place for a walk with or without the kids, offering up fresh air, peace and quiet.

2. Michael Davitt Museum (25-minute drive)

Michael Davitt Museum
Photo via Michael Davitt Museum on Facebook

The Michael Davitt Museum celebrates the life of Mayo’s most famous son Michael Davitt, social reformer, Member of Parliament, author, patron of Glasgow Celtic FC, labour leader and international humanitarian. The museum contains extensive historical artefacts relating to his life and campaign work with the National Land League, from documents to photos, letters, rosary beads and more.

3. National Museum of Ireland Country Life (27-minute drive)

National Museum of Ireland Country Life
Photo via National Museum of Ireland Country Life

Founded in 1731, the Royal Dublin Society collected plaster casts, geological minerals, fine art and ethnographical material, in order to train artists and encourage industry. Other organisations also encouraged similar goals, and in 1877, the Science and Art Museum brought all the collections together right here.

4. Westport (45-minute drive)

Westport Village
Photo bia Susanne Pommer on shutterstock

This lively little town offers lots of places to eat and is right next to Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s holiest mountain where St Patrick fasted for 40 days. There are plenty of things to do in Westport and there are lots of great restaurants in Westport if you fancy a post-Knock feed.

FAQs about visiting Knock Shrine

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from whether it’s worth visiting to what to do nearby.

In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.

Is Knock worth visiting?

Yes, even if you’re not Religious, it’s worth visiting to hear the story of what happened here many years ago.

What happened at Knock Shrine?

Knock Shrine came to prominence in the late 19th century after villagers reported seeing an apparition at the church. 

What is there to do in Knock?

You can 1, take a guided tour, 2, discover the story at Knock museum, 3, stroll around the grounds and 4, see the artwork.

Emma Baird is a lifestyle editor and novelist. She has worked in the communications industry for more than 25 years, and loves animals, the countryside and lingering in a great pub for the food and the craic.

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