A man of Vision: Fr Bartholomew Cavanagh ( 1821-1897), Parish Priest of Knock and Aughamore in 1879. This is man who may have engineered an apparition using a magic lantern. The site of the “apparition” is visible in the background. Photo: Knock Shrine.


The latest post on the curator.ie blog examines new evidence supporting the claim that the apparition said to have occurred in Knock in 1879 was in fact a slide show engineered by the parish priest (pictured above).

It  builds on research into the Dublin Anthropometric Laboratory, drawing on an investigation of the role played by James Hack Tuke in the organisation of a survey of fishing Grounds in the West of Ireland in 1890. This survey laid the foundation for the programme of ethnographic fieldwork undertaken by the Laboratory in one of Tuke’s main areas of operation, Mayo and Connemara.


Sketch showing distribution of relief tickets in the turf market in Westport. From Illustrated London News, March 6th, 1880. Source Mayo Library.


Tuke visited Knock in 1880, 6 months after the apparition occurred and 6 weeks or so after the first report was published in the press. Tuke claimed that the “apparition” involved the use of a lantern projector to “depict” the Blessed Virgin as in a “vision.” This connected with a conversation I had some time ago with Stan Mason, grandson of Thomas Mason, the man who recalled providing the parish priest in Knock with a lantern projector around the time of the apparition. It seemed obvious to me that Knock was more slide show than apparition.

The announcement that the Pope was going to Knock as part of his visit to Ireland (2018) prompted a review of the literature on the apparition of 1879. The findings are posted on Ballymaclinton, which is sort of appropriate given that the blog was inspired by a fictional village that was created as a showcase for the “Real” Irish during the Franco-Brititish exhibition in London in 1908.

The most surprising finding is that church authorities were sceptical of reports of an apparition and commissioned Francis Lennon, Professor of Mathematics and Natural Law in Maynooth, to investigate the possibility that a lantern projector was used. He concluded that the “apparition”was created using some form of optical device but he was overruled. John MacHale, Archbishop of Tuam, decided that the witness statements were trustworthy and set about establishing Knock as a site of Marian apparition and pilgrimage. The story was published in the Tuam News in January 1880.


A lantern projector in action. Source: Martyn Jolly.


So, the question has to be asked: If the apparition was a slide show, as the evidence suggests, why is Pope Francis visiting Knock? Maybe it is a case of history repeating itself and maybe it is a case of the optics of pilgrimage. For more go to Ballymaclinton.



Ciarán Walsh