A part of Maolsheachlann O Ceallaigh’s series on Irish Priests


Every human life has its missed opportunities, but the life of Archdeacon Bartholomew Cavanagh (1821-1897) is a unique case. For this man was parish priest of the village of Knock, county Mayo, when the Blessed Virgin is believed to have miraculously appeared there – and he failed to witness it.

Though told about the apparition by his housekeeper, he didn’t believe her, and chose not to go see for himself. He missed the phenomenon, which lasted about two hours and was never repeated.

The story of the Knock apparition is well known. On the evening of 21st August, 1879, fifteen witnesses saw an image of the Virgin Mary on the gable wall of Knock’s church. It wasn’t just Mary who appeared there, but also St. Joseph, St. John the Evangelist, and Jesus himself (in the form of a lamb standing on an altar, in front of a cross).

The story of Archdeacon Cavanagh is particularly poignant because this priest had an extraordinary love for the Virgin Mary, even by the high standards of nineteenth century Ireland. As his biographer Liam Ua Cadhain wrote: “He was known to practice special devotion to the Mother of God. From the very dawn of reason, this devoted child of Mary loved her and served her.”

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own