Death of an Irish Town?

A few weeks ago, I had to do some work in Knock. For those that don’t know, Knock is a small village in county Mayo. It is also a catholic pilgrimage and prayer site. Its notability is derived from the Knock Shrine, at which the Virgin Mary, together with Saint Joseph and John the Evangelist, allegedly appeared on 21 August 1879.

As a result, Knock has become a major Irish pilgrimage site of prayer and worship and one of Europe’s major Catholic Marian shrines, together with Lourdes and Fatima. Today this shrine is visited by one and a half million pilgrims annually. 

I was last here many, many years ago, when I and the rest of my generation were dragged there by our parents. I remember it as being a busy spot with lots of pilgrims and religious vendors. I never had a reason to go back until this job brought me there. When I finished the shoot, I decided I’d grab a coffee before driving home. 

knock basilica by John Mee PhotographyIt was a dull grey day and I decided to visit the basilica that was built in the 1970’s. I’d never seen this before. It is a very impressive building that dominates the village skyline. The interior is equally impressive. The mosaic behind the altar is composed of 1.5 million individual pieces and was, you guessed it – impressive. Everything here was shiny … and impressive. 🙂

Unlike the buildings outside! After leaving the basilica, I wandered around the village in search of a coffee. The shops selling religious items were still there, punctuated by the odd cafe or restaurant. Lots of places appeared to be closed and sadly, very run down. A rundown shop in Knock village

This shop is called An Siopa Nua- irish for The New Shop. It didn’t look that new to me. It was strange to see such opulence side by side with the rundown buildings in the village. 

Below is a selection of other premises dotted along the long street that is Knock. 

A shop in Knock village

Holy Love Information Centre. The name made me feel a little uncomfortable and I did wonder what information they dispensed. Equally so with Life pharmacy. 

A street in Knock village

All of the major saints seem to have an outlet on the main street. Competition must be pretty fierce as they all appear to sell the same goods.

Street in Knock village

I continued onwards looking for somewhere to get a coffee but most cafes seemed to be closed. This place, with its weird mix of food and religion somehow just didn’t do it for me. 

A shop in Knock village

The promise of hot luncheon, coffee and scones followed by some Club orange and HB ice cream was tempting but peering in the window revealed a dark and abandoned place. 

A street in Knock village

The Rosary of The Unborn to Conquer Abortion The New Sacramental for The World Today. No, I couldn’t figure out what this meant either. The capitalisation of every second word didn’t help. Still, it looks like a nice balcony where you could sit out with a coffee. If only you could get a coffee! 🙂

Fairfields Restaurants in Knock village

Finally, a place where I could get a coffee. An unusual placement for your second shop. I would have thought a different town – maybe a different street, but who am I to question the business model.
And a choice of two restaurants … or is it a restaurant or a takeaway, or a crafts and toys shop, or a purveyor of fine catholic art? Either way, they were all closed. 

Shop in Knock village

By this time, I was beginning to give up my quest for coffee and felt a strange desire to buy a religious statue or rosary. Maybe the Guadalupe Centre or The Holy Face Centre could help. Things were becoming more and more confusing and like the Shroud of Turin, a little fake. 
However, my spirits (excuse the pun) were lifted briefly when I mistook the name of the other shop – I thought it said The Charity Cloak Shop. I’ve always wanted a cloak, and a cheap one would be perfect.

Knock shrine

This is the gable wall where on 21 August 1879, fifteen people witnessed what they stated was an apparition of Our Lady, Saint Joseph, and Saint John the Evangelist. I shot this through the large glass facade and used a polarising filter to pick up on the reflections of the houses outside in it. I thought it was a cool effect …  or maybe the lack of caffeine was beginning to kick in. 

A rosary in Knock village

A giant rosary. What could it mean? Curiouser and curiouser! For someone like me, Knock was a strange but highly interesting place. There’s loads of photographic potential and I would have liked to have seen it in a different light. 

Silence pleaseHowever, the day I was there, it seemed like yet another forgotten west of Ireland village. I’d have thought this place would be booming with that 1.5 million visitors every year. 
The late John Healy, author of Death of an Irish Town, first published in 1968 and republished in 1988 under the title ‘No One Shouted Stop’ springs to mind.
The book chronicled and railed against the economic decline of his Mayo hometown, Charlestown.
It seems he could well have been talking about Knock. I hope not. I’ll go back to shoot it again someday and I’ll be sure to bring a flask of coffee too. 

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13 Comments

  1. Rachel King Reply

    Brilliant, I was laughing out loud for a lot of it , really well written, your observations were spot on also hilarious. Thanks, now I want to go to Knock. It looks pretty surreal, I love the statue in the window of the cafe that says come in we’re open yet it is locked.
    More of these please

  2. Sean G Reply

    Good read John – really enjoyed it. I was in Knock for the first time about a month ago and was really surprised at how run down the whole place looked, especially considering the number of visitors they get there.

  3. Pattie Prendergast Reply

    It’s a pity the writer didn’t go to The Old Ground Restaurant, Knock House Hotel or Cafe Le Cheile. They are in my opinion the top 3 places in Knock to eat or have a great coffee. Sadly I think he just wanted to show the more run down side of Knock.

  4. Paul Reply

    Interesting observations John. I guess the annual catholic confirmations are a big boon to the economy. I presume the mosaic behind the altar is composed of more than 1.5 million pieces rather than one and a half. 🙂

  5. Kevin Reply

    Knock is a lovely place to live ,
    A quite homely village with plenty of places to get a coffee!
    Come more often to enjoy the experience.
    Kevin k.

  6. Pat Cannon Reply

    Hi john! A good read, but to be fair I think if you were in Knock for the 15th of August which is the pinicial of the pilgrimage season you may have a different story. The problem in the west of Ireland is by in large 3 fold, ( 1 ) we in the west have been electing the wrong people to our Councels and parliaments over the last 40 / 50 years ( 2 ) the money that was earmarked for the Border, Midlands and Westeren area ( The BMW area ) by to EU. Was sent back because the planners in these areas were to bussy getting back hands from private developers at the time this EU. money was available to bother with drawing up plans for the development’s that would be in the General public’s interest or was Corruptly redirected to other areas by politicians who needed developments in other areas out side of the BMW Area. ( 3 ) the first thing that happens in any West of Ireland town if somebody proposes a new development is all the NAY SAYERS emerge out of the woodwork especially if that proposed development involves some thing that will in prove life for the general population. I’ll just give you a few examples, ( 1 ) when Travinal factory ( now Baxter health care ) was first proposed for a Mayo town it was not proposed for Castlebar it was proposed for Claremorris BUT! The Buisness people of Claremorrise objected to it because they thought it would drive up the cost of employment in the town, thus higher wage bills for them who were used of inslaving their employees ( 2 ) before the concept of livestock marts came to the West of Ireland the farmers would take the aminals to a fair green on the appointed fair day to sell them. A proposal was mooted at a meeting of Castlebar councle to build a public amenity ( toilets and washing facility’s ) for the people using the fair green which was a small enough development by any standards BUT! it was shot down by an unelected councleor called C****** who said that the farmers were no better than animals themselves and could defecate out side like the animals too. ( 3 ) we all know about the protest in North Mayo about the dirty and dangerous emergence of the oil industery in the area and ofcoarse the give away of our natural resources, according to an Irish Times survey at that time 85% of the people were infavor of the protest BUT! The other 15% were the ones who had the power to beat the protesters into the ditches, to intimadate them in their homes, to threaten them that if they didn’t stop protesting that the child protection agency would be sent to their homes to take their children into care, they were fired from their jobs, and lost their business, they were brought to court on false charges and dozens were inprisoned which resulted in them getting criminal records and blacklisted for jobs in most areas. One 19 year old man was killed by a drunken off duty Garda who was racing with 2 other drunken off duty Gardai on their way to work at 5..45am BUT! ofcoarse all the blame in our corrupt courts went on the head of the unfortunate 19 years old. After all that my point is this resource give away that the ordanery people of North Mayo fraught against so hard for so long is now turning over 185 million dollars per day tax free profit for its foreign owners and nothing for Belmullett, Mayo, the West of Ireland or any other part of Ireland. In a conversation i had recently with a retired oil plstform worker who worked for several years off the West coast of Ireland boring test holes and then capping them off, there are NOT! Millions of barrels of oil and gas off our coast BUT! trillions of barrels and we should be the wealthiest nation on earth.

  7. Patrick Healy Reply

    Pity you didn’t meet the granny and grandad mafia in Knock who attack people for no reason just because they can complete freaks and security guards there are even afraid of them including the local gardai which is bizarre but hey that’s another little secret Knock doesn’t broadcast the bullying and thuggery from older members of Knock community and other locals who let it happen because it suits Knocks agenda where rich people are embraced and poor spat at in Knock that’s fact I live there for nearly four years I seen whole families moved out by bullying granny mafia and young people find it very very hard to live here as there are toxic people there with mental problems who not only should be barred but committed to mental hospitals for their behaviour harassing and demoralising young people .Yes Knock belongs to grannies and this suits Knocks agenda if its run down its because Knock Shrine and native locals love the ching Ching in their pockets they don’t give a crap about God and Our Blessed Mother Mary Mother of Salvation but hey who am I to judge mums the word in Knock 🙂 sad sad people Go to Medugorje its got 100 times more presence there and people are way nicer.

  8. Gerard mchugh Reply

    Knock is a lovely place to live I’ve lived here now for about 6years I don’t know what your angle was in doing this but it wasn’t a positive one there are many small villages here in Ireland that were hit by the recession and of course you had to high light the village of knock why ? I ask is your reasons if you wouldn’t have changed the colour on your photoshop the pictures would have been much nicer there are many other coffee shops and restaurants in knock such as The old ground 4ds restaurant Byrnes coffee shop bowers Rynn and cafe le ciela so your intent was to put down knock for what ever reasons only you know as a photographer myself I always try to focus on good shots that’s what makes a good photographer you are not good knock is a lovely place and to all those negative comments please look at yourself s pat you are cracked so stop telling lies and rubbish with your negative comments knock is a lovely place hope this helps

    1. John Mee Reply

      Hi Gerard. Thanks for reading and commenting. I’m sure there are many lovely places in Knock but this article is based on my observations when I was there. Yes, the recession has hit all of the country, especially small rural communities along the west. I’ve lived all my life in Mayo – it’s my homeplace and I love it.

      However, the reality on the day I was in Knock is that lots of places appeared to be closed and sadly, very run down. Unfortunately, this is true of many towns throughout the west.

      My article is not intended as a slight on Knock or its inhabitants. As I stated in it, “I would have liked to have seen it (Knock) in a different light”.

      However, we cannot ignore the reality before us in the west and in rural Ireland, no matter how much we love it.

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