Frank Brandon’s Column

Tabloid treatment of Knock Shrine was untimely and spiteful

Our man Frank on what he considers to be inappropriate tabloid treatment of the Knock Shrine apparition; on becoming a grandfather in a pandemic; and saying a fond farewell to CJ Stander…

The first thing I have to say is that when it comes to religion, I would rate myself a better Christian than a Catholic. While I fully believe there is a God, I’d pray to him in an informal way – more like having a chat with him – and I wouldn’t be the best person in the world for structured prayer. I go to Mass as often as I can, but could still miss out on the odd Sunday.

However, no matter how good or bad I am, one of the places I have always loved going to is Knock Shrine, a place I find to be so peaceful and soothing. Before Covid, we (Carol and I) would pay at least two or three visits every year to the Mayo village.

Many times over the years in this column I have wondered why Knock wasn’t seen in the same light as Fatima, Lourdes, or Medjugorje, and why foreign pilgrims didn’t flock to it in the same way. But of course one of the reasons was that the Vatican, as head of the Roman Catholic Church, didn’t fully acknowledge Knock as an internationally recognised shrine.

That all changed on Friday evening when Pope Francis upgraded the Knock Shrine to international status, a recognition that now places it on the same status as Fatima and Lourdes. After nearly 150 years, it has finally been ratified as a proper Marian Shrine. Presently, up to one and a half million people visit Knock each year, and I imagine those figures will get even bigger now.

And so, after the huge honour that was bestowed on the Shrine on Friday evening, I wonder why one of the country’s most popular tabloids – the Daily Star – had to run a full-page article with the headline, ‘Was Knock apparition all a hoax?’, on the very next morning.

The article, which was by an unidentified writer, suggested the whole thing was a set-up, organised by the parish priest of the time, involving the use of a projector and a mirror. The article claims that by positioning them in a particular way, he could project religious images on to the gable wall of the church. When that was done, his housekeeper rounded up a number of locals, brought them to the church, showed them the images which the priest had projected, and when they saw the images, the story of Knock was born.

Now one of the things I have learnt since my time on the Roscommon People is that the written word is indeed a powerful thing. While I most certainly am not a journalist, I would have thought that for any journalist, there should be a point to whatever piece they put into print. What exactly the point was in questioning the authenticity or otherwise of the Knock apparitions beats me. What was the point, after a century and a half, when there is no way of proving the conspiracy theory? On the day after the Church accepted that Knock deserves its international status, was it really necessary to publish such a spiteful article?

Last week I wondered about the judgement of some TV producers and directors. Today I wonder do some newspaper editors have the same lack of judgement. Maybe the fact that no one put their name to the piece says it all!

As for me, the minute we get rid of Covid and its horrible lockdowns, I will head back to Knock and once again experience the special spiritual qualities that it has in abundance. Knock’s international recognition is most welcome and long overdue. In future years, it will surely be huge on the international pilgrim tour list.


Grandchild joy still a reminder of life in grip of Covid

Last Monday night – or early Tuesday morning to be precise – my wife Carol and I became grandparents. Our daughter Lisa gave birth to baby daughter Riley up in the Rotunda in Dublin, and while we were naturally delighted and overjoyed, it also brought home, in a very personal way, the awful impact Covid has on us all.

For a year now, we have seen how hard it is on relatives when somebody dies, and how sad it is that only a handful of relations can properly say goodbye by attending the funeral. But it is easy to forget (unless you actually live it yourself) how tough it is on hospital patients who cannot receive any visitors, and on people who have relatives in hospital but cannot go to see them.

Last week I met a lady who told me her husband has been in hospital for over a month, and she hasn’t been able to see him since. To bring him in a change of clothes or anything else, she has to put a label on the package with his details on it and hand it in to reception, from where it is delivered to her husband.

For us, we could not visit our daughter or our new granddaughter in the hospital. The only one allowed in was her husband, and that was only from 5 to 7 in the evening. While it was only a minor inconvenience compared to the suffering of some other people, it is nevertheless something we could do without.

I said it last week, but it’s worth repeating – let the government try and speed up the vaccine programme – and hopefully children and grandparents can get to meet again soon.


A great week for Irish sport

What a week for Irish sport! We hammered the old enemy, England, in both horse racing and rugby, and in the process gave the whole country a hugely important boost in times of extraordinary hardship and sacrifice.

In Rachael Blackmore, we discovered a new heroine to rank with Katie Taylor, Sonia O’Sullivan and Catherina McKiernan, amongst others. Blackmore made history in a number of ways during her unbelievable Cheltenham performances, culminating in six wins, making her the first ever female leading festival rider. Her success in such a demanding sport will inspire many young girls to follow their dreams, whatever career they choose.

Then on Saturday, the wheels really came off the English Chariot, as Ireland – inspired yet again by Robbie Henshaw – came up with an unexpected but very deserved victory.

As someone who has admired all the qualities CJ Stander brought to the Irish jersey – despite his being born thousands of miles away in South Africa – I was delighted to see the team put on such a dominant performance to bring the curtain down on his international career. His emotional reaction at the end said all that needed to be said about his commitment to the Munster and Irish jerseys. I hope the Reds win the PRO14 final against Leinster this weekend, but either way I wish him well in his farming future.

As CJ heads back home to South Africa, I thank him for all the pride and joy he brought to Irish rugby followers over the last number of years.


And finally…

Out here in Creggs we are getting ready for the big GAA Draw which is taking place on Easter Sunday with approx. €15,000 in prizes. The good news is you can still purchase tickets at or in Roarke’s shop, or from any member of the committee, and by doing so you could win something brilliant for yourself, but also play a big part in safeguarding the future of the local GAA club. So don’t forget, the draw is on Easter Sunday, and you can still take part. Get your tickets – and good luck!