Byzantine Catholic Church in America: News of the East

Dormition Pilgrimage to Cnoc Mhuire, Ireland


By Archimandrite Serge Keleher

DUBLIN, IRELAND -- (8/30/1999) -- On Saturday, 28 August 1999, the small community which meets on Sundays for the Divine Liturgy at Saint Kevin's Oratory (attached to the Pro-Cathedral) in Dublin went on pilgrimage to Cnoc Mhuire, Ireland's national shrine to the Holy Mother of God. The small village of Cnoc Mhuire (the Hill of Mary, sometimes called "Knock" in English) has been in the northern district of County Mayo, in the west of Ireland, from time immemorial, but no one quite knew why the village had been named in honor of the Holy Virgin Mary. During the latter part of the nineteenth century, Cnoc Mhuire suffered badly from the disastrous series of famines which struck Ireland. Then, in 1879, in an apparition with strong Eucharistic significance, the Blessed Mother came to the faithful at Cnoc Mhuire, appearing outside the western gable wall of the parish church. Since then, Marian devotion has grown steadily around the site of the apparition.

The old parish church is still in use; there is a large chapel at the site of the apparition, and a new Basilica of Our Lady Queen of Ireland has been built on the grounds, specifically designed to accommodate great numbers of the sick and infirm. In 1979, to mark the centenary of the apparition, Pope John Paul II came to Cnoc Mhuire and blessed the new Basilica. Today, of all the Marian shrines in the English-speaking world, Cnoc Mhuire attracts the most numerous groups of pilgrims.

The community attending the Divine Liturgy at Saint Kevin's Oratory in Dublin began in 1992 with Irish Catholics who enjoy the Byzantine Liturgy and formed a small choir to sing the Liturgy in Greek and Irish. Quite recently people from Eastern Europe have been settling in Ireland, so that now there are also faithful from Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and other countries attending Divine Liturgy regularly at Saint Kevin's, enriching the community with their national traditions, their languages and their liturgical chant. For the feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God, the faithful from Ukraine spontaneously asked Archimandrite Serge (Keleher), who serves this community, if it would be possible to have a pilgrimage to Cnoc Mhuire; the faithful had heard of this shrine to the Holy Theotokos and very much wanted to visit the shrine. Pilgrimages for the feast of the Holy Dormition are an important feature of Christian life in Ukraine, where several large monasteries are dedicated to the Dormition of the Mother of God, so on this feast day there are numerous pilgrimages to these monasteries and the faithful wanted to do something similar.

Archimandrite Serge wrote to Msgr. Dominick Grealy, Parish Priest of Cnoc Mhuire and Rector of the Shrine; Msgr. Dominick responded, generously agreeing that the pilgrimage would be welcome and that the Divine Liturgy could be offered in the Apparition Chapel itself - which is a special privilege, since there are always many groups and many visiting priests who wish to have Mass in the Apparition Chapel and the Divine Liturgy takes more time than the Roman Mass. The community from Dublin decided to travel to Cnoc Mhuire in two groups: those who are of retirement age are entitled to free travel on Irish trains, so the senior contingent took the train to Claremorris and then by pre-arrangement hired a local bus to bring the group to the shrine. For the younger pilgrims, David Lonergan chartered a bus to take the Dublin group to Cnoc Mhuire; most of the bus pilgrims were the "new Irish" from Eastern Europe so conversations on the bus were in flexible combinations of Ukrainian, Russian, Irish and English. The bus (carrying the pilgrims and the equipment which would be needed for the worship services) left the Pro-Cathedral at 7:45 that Saturday morning.

For the new Irish from Eastern Europe, this pilgrimage was the first time that they had seen anything of Ireland outside of Dublin. As the bus travelled through the fertile agricultural land of County Meath and County Westmeath, the pilgrims enjoyed identifying the different crops growing on the farms, the different sorts of farm animals (mostly sheep, dairy cows, and beef cattle), the gardens and the wild flowers; repeatedly the pilgrims were reminded of the Carpathian Mountains. Shortly after Longford the bus crossed the River Shannon, and the pilgrims could see the difference in agriculture in the west of Ireland. Arriving at Cnoc Mhuire just before noon, there was a great rush to prepare the Apparition Chapel for the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom - the pilgrims had brought the Byzantine chalice set and Antimension (for this occasion Father Serge used an Antimension consecrated by Patriarch Joseph), the prosphora, the Gospel Book, the portable icon-screen, the processional cross and ripidia, the vestments for the priest and the three acolytes, music-books, a large icon of the Dormition of the Mother of God, and books for the congregation.

The Apparition Chapel was quite filled with Irish pilgrims who wished to participate in the Divine Liturgy and remained to the end, despite the relatively long service and the mix of languages. There were well over 150 communicants. In his sermon, Archimandrite Serge explained the Eucharistic significance of the Apparition at Cnoc Mhuire, in which the Blessed Mother of God guides us to the Heavenly Altar, described by Saint John the Theologian and revealed in the Apparition itself (the Heavenly Altar appeared, surrounded by the angels, with the Lamb of God on the Holy Table, surmounted by the Cross) and explained how these themes are expressed also in the Divine Liturgy.  Explaining to the Irish faithful the significance of the coming of the Ukrainians to Ireland, Father Serge noted that for the Divine Liturgy the two main languages in use that day were Irish and Ukrainian, and that both of these languages, currently under threat of extinction, are closely linked to the Christian traditions of their people. After the Divine Liturgy many of the pilgrims from different parts of Ireland and from other countries, asked for individual blessings and expressed their gratitude for the opportunity to participate in the Divine Liturgy. Meanwhile, the new Irish faithful from Eastern Europe had prepared in advance and brought with them a complete dinner, of the sort traditional for a feast-day in Ukraine. All the pilgrims from Dublin shared this most bountiful meal in the refectory at the shrine, where there is plenty of room for pilgrimage groups to have their meals (pilgrims must bring their own food for these meals, but the shrine provides the facility, with shelter from the weather, tables and chairs, boiling water for tea and coffee, and so forth). Some of the Irish pilgrims from Dublin had experienced such feast-day meals in Ukraine, but never expected to find
this at Cnoc Mhuire.

After dinner, Father Serge took the pilgrims through Basilica of Our Lady Queen of Ireland and to the High Cross which commemorates the visit of Pope John Paul II to Cnoc Mhuire in 1979. The pilgrims then returned to the Apparition Chapel for Great Vespers, sung in Ukrainian and Church-Slavonic, and concluding with the Blessing of travellers, for the return trip to Dublin. By the intercessions of the Holy Mother of God, and thanks also to the prayers of many friends, the pilgrimage was blessed with perfect weather: there was not a drop of rain, and neither was the day so warm as to be oppressive. The pilgrims who were seeing rural Ireland for the first time expressed the hope that there might be further pilgrimages to some of the other traditional shrines in our country.


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Last Modified on 09/05/1999.