OUR LADY OF KNOCK (1879) CAME TO A COUNTRY WHICH HAD REMAINED FAITHFUL THROUGH CENTURIES OF PERSECUTIONS
Mary came to a country which had remained faithful through centuries of trials and persecutions. Ireland was poverty stricken, with most of its people living in almost unbelievable squalor. The Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 had officially ended three centuries of persecution of the Church. During that time thousands of persons had been put to death for their religion.
THE PERSECUTION HAD TAKEN A MORE INSIDIOUS FORM
After 1829, the persecution simply took a more insidious form. Catholics were no longer slaughtered, but they were offered bribes of food and money to abandon their religion and to send their children to non-Catholic schools. It must have been difficult for a man to refuse such a bribe in the famine years when he saw the thin emaciated faces of his wife and children, but the vast majority of people preferred starvation to renouncing their faith.
THE MAJORITY OF PEOPLE PREFERRED STARVATION TO RENOUNCING THE FAITH
The year 1847 was one of the worst in Ireland’s history. That was the year of the dread potato famine, when thousands died of starvation and thousands of others were forced to leave the country. When it was over, the population of Ireland was half of what it had been, and even today it is much smaller than it was before 1847. There were failures of the potato crop again in 1877, 1878, and 1879.
Typhus fever struck down many of those who escaped death by starvation. At the Cross graveyard in the north of Mayo there were from five to fifteen funerals a day. Because the people were so poor and because so many died, most of them had to be buried without coffins.
Famine, fever, abject poverty, cruel persecution – surely a nation could bear no more. It seemed that the Irish race was destined to be wiped out. Just when conditions were at their worst, Mary appeared at Knock.
– From: “The Woman Shall Conquer” by Don Sharkey, Prow Books/Franciscan Marytown Press, Libertyville, IL, 1954