Faith as fact in Knock
STRANGE OCCURRENCES IN A SMALL IRISH VILLAGE
Directed by Aoife Kelleher. Cert PG, gen release, 90mins The folksy charm and tight focus of Aoife Kelleher’s One Million Dubliners made that film an unexpected (but much deserved) box office hit in 2014. Strange Occurrences in a Small Irish Village sees the talented director bring the same discipline and approach to the Knock shrine. As with Kelleher’s portrait of Glasnevin Cemetery, the tiny Irish village (pop. 2,000 approximately) – where, in 1879, 15 locals claimed to see the Virgin Mary (and various iconic others) – is introduced through its residents and day-to-day routines.
Fr Gibbons, a likeable and relatively youthful priest, synopsises recent history and notes that the number of visiting pilgrims has dropped since “scandals hit the church”. Rather cannily, he has reached out to New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan in an effort to attract the Catholic diaspora.
We meet one of the village’s “handmaidens”, the descendants of apparition witnesses, and a group of young guys who have walked barefoot for miles in memory of a dead friend. “That’s how it is has to be done,” shrugs one of the ramblers.
Faith is not a question in Knock: it’s a fact.
“The Catholic religion is the true religion because we have the miracles to prove it,” explains one of Knock’s souvenir merchants before reaching for a set of rosary beads, comprising plastic embryos encased in glass teardrops: “If you pray on this
rosary, you save a baby from abortion.” He isn’t challenged, nor should he be. It wouldn’t be sporting to challenge people’s deeply held beliefs in a film that strives for ethnography not discourse.
Ultimately, however, this lack of opposition makes for engaging but not entirely satisfying viewing. The material is crying out for a little more confrontation and a lot more scope. There is chatter about exhuming the body of one witness – “Sure, she was a saint” – yet, no reference to more rational theories involving pranksters and a magic lantern. There isn’t nearly enough about Monsignor Horan’s historical campaigns, nor about the international airport he founded. Coaxing IR£6,000,000 out of Charles Haughey? Now that was a real miracle.