The Liberty Gazette
November 12, 2013Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: This week’s story starts with a small town in Ireland experiencing massive unemployment, its citizens departing to find jobs elsewhere. The town was drying up in 1980, except for the visitors that still came to see the shrine after 15 townspeople reported witnessing an apparition of the Virgin Mary. Their testimony approved by the Catholic Church, Irish Catholics had been making pilgrimages to tiny, remote Knock, and over 600 cures were reported within a year of the sighting. But that was over a century ago, and the town had not much else to keep its economy going. That is, until Monsignor Horan moved to Knock.
Seeing the human pain of economic distress, Horan looked around to find where money was being spent, and finding it at romantic dance halls populated by teens and young adults, he set up business to collect money in sort of a chartable dance hall.
The idea worked well, spurring more ideas the priest would put into action to feed the flock put in his charge.
The dirty carnival-like atmosphere that invaded of the area where the Virgin Mary was sighted, the muddy streets and dilapidated shacks where cheap and gaudy memorabilia was sold received special attention from the Monsignor. After succeeding in cleaning up the area he campaigned tenaciously to raise funds for a basilica. (I had to look up what a basilica means to the Catholic Church – it involves a commitment and carries a special honor.) It’s a great story – short version is: sighting site cleaned up, basilica built and designated, priest gained ground with politicians and real people (that’s two separate groups), putting his faith into action.
With more than 1.5 million traveling to the shrine the priest helped build up, what could he do next to help his people? How could he turn this sleepy, backwards town into a place people would come and spend money? Build an airport!
Mike: Someone’s funeral offered perfect timing for Horan to obtain approval from the head of Irish government (called the Taoiseach), Charles Haughey, to construct a runway. Political blinders cause those types to act only for anticipated votes; hence, the big important guy gave it his blessing at the post-funeral lunch.
Horan got to work before the next breeze would change Haughey’s answer – even before money or planning permission was granted. When they tried to ‘reign in his passion’ he went on a campaign of his own, holding fund raisers, drawings, and singing in halls around Ireland. One of his campaign songs:
I'm dreaming of a great airport
With all the politicians that I know
May the Taoiseach be happy and bright
And may all the politicians do right!
Most all the locals came to cheer the landing of the first airplane on the 8,000’ runway at the new international airport – not the grass strip Haughey assumed it would be.
The former Knock Airport, now Ireland West Airport, hosts flights to more than 25 scheduled and charter destinations. The town hopes this year’s success will eclipse last year’s, their best year yet.
Monsignor Horan has since passed on, but his breviary, rosary beads, reading glasses, and fur hat are displayed inside the terminal building, while outside a statue of him stands firm, an encouragement to never give up.
And Ireland’s tourist agencies report that the airport is vital for that part of the country – thanks to the priest who kept on knocking.