We started with a visit to the Marian Shrine in Knock. In 1879 the Blessed Mother appeared to 15 witnesses for two hours as they stood in the pouring rain at the gable of the parish church (no rain landed on the ground under the apparition). With her were St. Joseph and St. John the Evangelist and an image of a lamb standing on an altar with a cross. Pilgrims continue to flock to this site and dioceses sponsor "Pilgrimage Days". I met people from Dublin, including recent Filipino and Vietnamese immigrants to Ireland.
We celebrated Mass in the apparition chapel which has a depiction of the apparition as described by the witnesses. We had a Mass for our group, but eventually the chapel was filled with pilgrims who noticed a Mass starting and joined us.
After lunch our group made its way to Ballymote in Co. Sligo. My ancestors Peter and Margaret Kearns (my great-great grandparents) left there in 1849 during the height of the potato famine (http://www.pbs.org/destinationamerica/usim_wn_noflash.html). After they came to America and settled in Ottawa, Illinois they dropped the "A" in spelling their name. One of my key goals for this trip was to celebrate Mass for my ancestors in their parish church. I had no idea if any relatives still existed there.
Having been in communication with Fr. Gregory Hannan, the parish priest who arranged for our Mass, he thought to announce our groups plans in their parish bulletin and made pulpit announcements or our upcoming visit. Therefore, several Kearns cousins of mine showed up for the Mass an impromptu family reunion. We discussed how we are related (their great-great grandfather was the brother our our great-great grandfather), exchanged emails and discussed plans for me to return for an extended visit at some future date. It was a very happy occasion.
The group went on to our hotel in Sligo while I stayed behind to visit with Fr. Hannan who kindly showed me around the town and eventually drove me the 20 minutes to Sligo. He was very welcoming and accommodating. The Irish hospitality has been very prevalent on this trip.
Another highlight in Ballymote is a monument to the "Fighting 69th", a Civil War era Union Army Regiment (nicknamed "The Irish Brigade") who were out of New York and who fought in the Battle of Gettysburg. They were commanded by Brigadier Gen. Michael Corcoran, who was born in Ballymote. In August of 2006 Mayor Michael Bloomburg of New York came to Ballymote to dedicate the memorial and present as a memorial some of the wreckage of the Twin Towers from 9/11.
Also famous to the town is the Book of Ballymote (currently housed in Dublin) which was written in 1390 AD at the Ballymote Castle, the ruins of which are a stone's throw from the church.
Book of Ballymote
Dedication of the Monument to the Fighting 69th - The Irish Brigade
Site of the Apparition in Knock, Ireland
The Catholic Church in Ballymote, ancestral parish of Fr. Kerns
Fr. Kerns and his cousins who live in Ballymote, Co. Sligo
The monument to the Fighting 69th, a Civil War era Union Army Regiment commanded by Brigadier Gen. Michael Corcoran of Ballymote who fought in the Battle of Gettysburg