Old armour for a new crusade: The Knights at Knock

Muted murmurings from six thousand throats, a wave of sound incessantly ebbing and flowing.

Hailmaryfullofgracthelordiswiththee ...


Scattered through the crowd, identifiable only by the tunics rolled up and tucked under their arms, are the 200 Knights of Columbanus who have joined this pilgrimage to Knock

For the majority of pilgrims this is just a visit to their holy place, a pure if somewhat regimented expression of their religious beliefs. For the Knights the religious engine will today help to drive a political machine.


The choreography of today's proceedings is detailed in The 1982 Pilgrims' Guide to Knock, which many clutch as they pray. "Stations of the cross, fifteen mysteries of the rosary (performed walking anti-clockwise around the church), litany of the Blessed Virgin (recited at the Apparition Gable)." The pilgrimage is to "be made in the spirit of fervent prayer, self-denial and recollection".


As the pilgrims follow the rituals they intermittently receive additional direction from the animated voice on the outdoor PA system.


"Welcome pilgrims to Our Lady's Shrine at Knock. Pity about the weather, but you can add it to your penance as you make your pilgrimage today ... and we have a special offer for pilgrims visiting the Shrine today. Special indulgences for those who say an Our Father and Hail Mary at the Shrine ... "


There are souvenirs to be bought at the shops and stalls named after saints, and holy water to be collected from the taps. Here and there people are flagging down passing priests to have medals and rosary beads blessed. A young girl stops a priest and holds up a brown paper bag. It receives a blessing.

The women are more at ease with public piety than are the men. Their prayers are easily interrupted by casual conversation. Hailmaryfullofgracethelordiswiththee - what time is it? That's grand, we've ten minutes till Mass - holymarymotherofgodprayforussinners . . .

The men hide their rosary beads, counting close to their chests, inaudibly mouthing the words. The children don faces of affected piety and surreptitiously glance around wondering if anyone is noticing. There are no babies, no prams, and no pregnant women.


It is raining, so the plan to do the Stations Of The Cross on the hill is abandoned and the knights go straight to the basilica. The Supreme Knight, Vincent Gallagher, accompanied to the altar by Knight Charles McLoughlin and Canon Horan of airport fame, is introduced to the pilgrims.


"We have spent the last hour meditating", he announces, "and have prayed for the sins of abortion throughout the world. We will resist any attempt to introduce it to Ireland." The six thousand pilgrims applauded as he promised "full support for the pro-life amendment campaign". He goes on, "We feel that Article 40 should be amended to include a declaration that the human being from the moment of conception has a right to life and no one can arbitrarily decide to deprive it of life. Who wants abortion? A few misguided and evil people who under the guise of freedom or personal greed support abortion . . . we would urge all to join the pro-life amendment campaign and pray for the success of the referendum."


With the Knights' political aspirations explicitly wedded to the pilgrims' religious beliefs, the Stations Of The Cross can begin. About twenty of the Knights push a golden, decorated trolley on which stands a statue of the Blessed Virgin.


The Knights' tunics are red or purple or blue, depending on the status of the Knight. The statue too is dressed to match the guide book description of Our Lady of Knock: "She was wearing a large white cloak fastened at the neck and on her head was a brilliant crown."


The pilgrims are led through the Stations by the Knights, members of an all male, exclusively middle and upper class quasi-religious, quasi-political organisation. The woman who is represented by the statue on the trolley which they are pushing would not be allowed join their ranks.

After the Stations and the Rosary, the Mass. And the Knights assisted with the readings and the anointing of the sick. The sermon by Bishop Flynn carried on the anti-abortion theme and placed it in the broader context of anti-Christian dangers inherent in liberal humanism.


"There is an attitude abroad which claims that there is no moral right or wrong, or at least no wrong if you do not hurt anyone else. God is ignored and the notion of sin as an offence against God is being forgotten . . . but in Ireland today the greatest enemies of Christ lie half-hidden within the Church, tearing her asunder. The Catholic who denies the sanctity of human life whether that life is born, unborn, formed or deformed, healthy, sick or senile, is disloyal to Christ. "


Knock has long been concerned with the absolute and inviolate nature of "God's gift of human life", and in this context places the debate on contraception and the pro-life amendment. The Family Life Centre at Knock Shrine has a permanent "pro-life" display and a continuous video film on the development of the human foetus and abortion (courtesy of Sligo SPUC).


The Family Life Centre has been campaigning against abortion since 1978, when it argued that the family planning legislation was "tantamount to allowing abortion by default". The display is not well attended. The pilgrims are here to carry out the rituals of their religion and although supportive do not seem particularly moved. They have not come to ponder social and ethical problems but to say together the prayers absorbed in cultural osmosis since childhood.


Hailmaryfullofgracethelordiswiththee ...

And on that wave the Knights launch their political boat.


 Supreme Council of

the Knights of Columbanus


The following, published for the fint time, is a list of delegates to the 1982 Supreme Council of the Knights of Columbanus. One of the delegates, Dr. Richard Wade, was instrumental in setting up the Pro-Life Amendment Campaign.

Patrick McCreesh Patrick Flynn

Thomas Mulligan Francis Maguire

James Gallagher Colm 0 'Quigley NT

Thomas Stafford Dermot A. Kelly

Michael Hilton William P. Moriarty

Eamon Halligan William Bourke

Michael Crowe John Harrington

Des. Doherty Patrick Murphy

Arthur Dunnion Peter Marrey

Denis McGrellis John Campbell

Gerard Prior Sean 0 'Connell

Michael O'Toole Simon Corkery

Chris Naessens Con. 0 'Leary

John 0 'Donovan Michael T. Browne

Noel Forde Liam McHale

Thomas E. Fleming Robert Farquharson

Martin Donnelly Michael Redmond

Brian Rowntree James McGuinness

John McParland Patrick Leneghan

Seam us Gordon Derry 0 'Sullivan

David 0 'Neill James J. Devine

Jerome Flynn James O'Hara

Arthur Doran An toine 0 'Briain

Francis Mcnvanna Thomas Duffy

Oliver Mallon Denis Gray

Charles Kerr Frank Reilly

James Hunt Tadgh O'Brien

William Jackman Thomas Woods

Eugene Bannigan Joseph Murray

Liam O'Neill Patrick Tolan

Robert Arthur Stephen Nugent

Eamon Hutton John Duggan

Jim Toner Sean Lyons

Benedict Traynor Liam P. Tierney

Patrick Fox Eamon Bodkin

Joseph Danniels Thomas Byrne

Gabriel Lillis Eamon Doyle

Michael Woulfe Michael J. Dillon

James Sheridan J. Kevin Hennessy

Michael Harron John J. Gould

Finbarr o 'Halloran James Williams

John o 'Callaghan John Caviston

Frank Murphy Timothy Dowling

William Murray John Campbell

CahalO'Gara Thomas Hogan

Eben Stewart James Power

Robert Laverty Francis R. Cleary

Brendan Foyle Patrick 0 'Donovan

Sean Kilcoyne Brendan Byrne

Ernest McPhilips Alexander Porter

Dr. Joseph Hill John Graham

Jeremiah Prendergast Thomas O'Malley

Peter Flood P.C. Dr. Richard Wade

Patrick McDonnell Desmond J. Murphy

Kieran Heffernan 'Patrick Dobbyn

James Kissane John J. Duffy

Very Rev. W.J.Anglim Thomas Warde

Mark French James A. Freeney

Gerry Murphy Brian Rhatigan

Niall M. Kennedy Eamon Donnelly

Henry C. O'Hagan John J. McElholm

Patrick Lambert Peter Duff

Frank A. Morris Francis Henegan

Patrick Cremins Calahan Flavin

Rev. Fr. John Fleming Martin Phillips

Patrick Leonard Thomas Davis

Gerard Lee John 0 'Halloran

James Hession Gerald Fennell

James McDonald Frank Conway

Brian MacEneaney Eamonn 0 'Broin

Ciaran Temple Patrick Kenny

Patrick O'Toole Cathal Henry

Rt.Rev.Mons. John Lynch

P.J.McManus Florence O'Donoghue

Declan Hallinan Peter Cotter

Christopher Dixon Michael 0 'Donnell

Gerard McQuillan Michael Bartlett

P. Etherson Richard Egan

Padraig OhUiginn James O'Hara

Thomas Matthews James McGrath

Joseph Rafferty Seamus Mulholland

Bernard McPoland Dr. William A. Ryan

James Bowden Liam Norrby

Paul Rouiller Patrick Rowan

Sean 0 'Dwyer Patrick Gillen

Seamus Davin Liam McGrenera

John Elliott