Tuesday 19 March 2019

Lick of paint and extra choir rehearsals as Knock gears up

Left: Shopkeeper Bernie Byrne is doing a roaring trade in papal memorabilia at his shop in Knock. Photos: Keith Heneghan
Left: Shopkeeper Bernie Byrne is doing a roaring trade in papal memorabilia at his shop in Knock. Photos: Keith Heneghan
Michael and Alison Panting renovating their new shop in Knock before the papal visit. Picture: Keith Heneghan
Sister Joan Kolbe and her sister, Paige Kolbe, from Nebraska, USA, visit the shrine on their tour of Ireland. Photos: Keith Heneghan
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

On the main street in Knock, a shop renovation is so extensive that it even turns heads amid the general frenzy of painting, decorating and planting that currently holds the village in a grip.

A couple are packing old shelving tidily into a skip while ancient paint is being stripped off exterior walls. There's even somebody on the roof.

"This is hardly for the Pope's visit?" we inquire, and the couple burst into rueful laughter.

"No," they admit, adding that they are feeling the pressure all the same.

Alison and Michael Panting have moved to Ireland from Britain and, having done a scouting tour of the west coast all the way up from Cork, settled on Knock.

A holistic therapist, Alison says it was the 'good feel' of the place that attracted her.

"It's the spirit of the place. I've never experienced anything like it - it's so serene," she says.

Michael plans on opening a sweet shop at ground level, selling old-fashioned favourites like sherbet lemons and apple drops.

"I think it will go well with the visitors who come to Knock," he says. Alison will have her therapy rooms upstairs. It's a new direction for the village but she feels it will all come together nicely, she says.

"It's a pity the Pope couldn't have given us another month though," adds Michael.

The couple have their tickets for the visit and are as excited as any local to see him.

Outside the basilica, gardener Michael McNeive is busily tending the flowerbeds which look as immaculate as those of the Bloom festival. "We're trying to get the colours of the papal flag with the yellows and whites," he explains.

The good weather has brought them all into flower and the rain of the last week has helped, he says.

"We've had all the planting done and the trees cut so hopefully he comes now - everyone is looking forward to it," added Michael.

Filling up holy water bottles at the shrine is Sister Joan Kolbe (25), from Lincoln, Nebraska, in the United States. Travelling around Ireland with her family, she admits that Irish people keep telling her how unusual it is to see such a strikingly youthful nun.

Sr Joan has seen Pope Francis twice in Washington DC and was standing close by to him, saying: "He's such a warm presence. It will be awesome for Knock."

In the final few weeks before the visit, the town is already bustling and religious goods emporiums are doing a roaring trade.

There are fridge magnets bearing the image of the Pope, all manner of memorabilia including rose-scented car air fresheners showing Pope Francis's jovial beam.

Papal bunting in yellow and white sells for €8.50 while papal flags are €10.

Shopkeeper Bernie Byrne, whose grandfather Dominic was one of the visionaries in 1879, says one of his best sellers is a fridge magnet for €2.50. "They're flying out the door," he says.

But on a personal level, Bernie is looking forward to the visit. "It's very special," he says, adding that he is in the choir and they are practising three nights a week.

Irish Independent

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