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The Commissions of Enquiry

The 1879 Apparition at Knock required ecclesiastical investigation. In fact, two separate Commissions of Enquiry would subsequently examine the Apparition Witnesses. The first Commission sat in 1879-80 and the second Commission in 1935-36. These were designed to establish the details of the Apparition and to judge the reliability of the Witnesses.

The First Commission (1879-80)

October 1879 Rev. Dr. John MacHale, Archbishop of Tuam, set-up the First Commission of Enquiry into the claims of an Apparition at Knock. The Commission was made up of three principal investigators from the clergy.

These were:

  • Archdeacon Cavanagh – P.P. Knock
  • Cannon Waldron – P. P. Ballyhaunis
  • Cannon Ulick Bourke – P. P. Claremorris

The First Commission was considered competent to submit findings because the members were well informed on the nature of apparitions and their counterfeits. Archdeacon Cavanagh, as their parish priest, adjudged the character of individual Witnesses. They examined and took depositions from fifteen visionaries; fourteen people who saw the Apparition at close quarters, and Patrick Walsh, who saw the Apparition, from a distance, as a brilliant light outside the parish church.

The Commission convened several times for deliberations on all of the evidence. They concluded that, ‘the testimonies of all, taken as a whole, is trustworthy and satisfactory.’

The Second Commission (1935-36)

In 1935 Rev. Dr. Thomas Patrick Gilmartin, Archbishop of Tuam, convened a Second Commission of Enquiry into the Apparition at Knock and the cures attributed to Our Lady of Knock at the Shrine. Rev. James S. Fergus, Secretary to Archbishop Gilmartin of Tuam acted as Sectary to the Commission. Their investigations concluded in 1936 and is often referred to as the 1936 Commission.

All evidence was taken under oath. Fifteen sessions were held between the 24th of August 1935 and the 14th of April 1936. The Commission examined the two surviving Witnesses of the Apparition living in Knock. They were: Mary O’Connell (née Byrne, 86 years old) and Patrick Byrne, (71 years old).

On the 27th of January 1936, Mary Byrne made a sworn statement before a Commissioner of Oaths and Canon Grealy, P.P. Knock. After  the scene of the apparition, she said: ‘I am quite clear about everything I have said, I make this statement knowing I am going before my God.’

As part of this Commission, a special Tribunal was set-up by the Archbishop of New York at the request of the Tuam Archdiocese. This was to formally question John Curry, the final living Witness, now resident in New York about the Apparition of 1879.

John Curry was five years old when the Apparition took place, a little boy who was lifted up by fellow witness Patrick Hill in order to better see the vision. In the final report of the 1936 Commission, the judges again stated that all the witnesses examined were judged to be ‘upright’ and their testimonies were ‘satisfactory.’

They added that Mary Byrne, in particular, had left ‘a most favourable impression’ on their minds.