In 1879, local people reported an apparition of the Virgin Mary and other supernatural personages at Knock, a poor rural village in western Ireland. In contrast to devotional or dismissive accounts, the author draws on both insiders' views and his training as a sociologist to show how the apparition was related to the local social context including economic, cultural, religious, political and historical dimensions. Drawing on new and neglected sources of evidence, Hynes pays particular attention to the individuals most directly involved including the seers, local clergy, Land League activists, various promoters, and others. The author looks through participants' eyes as much as possible. To understand what those eyes saw, the book examines the local scene for half a century before the apparition. His deep knowledge of the local context enables the author to develop understandings of key persons and events before and around the apparition. Using the Knock case, the author challenges usually accepted explanations of changes in nineteenth-century Irish Catholicism.
The book is important for those interested in the links between official and local religion especially in Irish Catholicism, for students of apparitions generally, for anyone interested in bottom-up approaches to social and cultural history, and especially for students of nineteenth-century Ireland.