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Monsignor James Horan
(5 May 1911 – 1 August 1986)

Knock Airport consists of a mile and a half of prime Jumbo-proof tarmac cut into a bog on the top of a hill in County Mayo, together with a simple terminal building, a control tower, a fire engine and a car park. It was 10 years old this week.Knock Airport, County Mayo, Pope John Paul II, James Horan, Charlie Haughey, Garret Fitzgerald, Irish Diaspora,  Aer Lingus,  Knock, Ryanair,

knock airport, county mayo, pope john paul ii, james horan, charlie haughey, garret fitzgerald, irish diaspora,  aer lingus,  knock, ryanair,

 To appreciate the irony of this week's celebrations we have to cast our minds back to 1979 and Pope John Paul II's famous visit to Ireland. Being a Marian fanatic, it was inevitable that he would visit the shrine at Knock, erected to commemorate alleged apparitions of the Virgin Mary in 1879. Accordingly, this 'one-horse town without the horse' had its 15 minutes of fame, after which the global-media caravan moved on and everyone went back to sleep.
Everyone, that is, except for the parish priest, a formidable gent who had for years nursed an almighty grievance, namely that his was the only major Marian shrine in Europe without an airport, pilgrims for the transportation of. James Horan was a remarkable individual, 'a doer in a land of nay-sayers' as one of his obituaries described him. Recognising the Pope's visit as the best peg he was ever likely to get, Horan set about organising the construction of an international airport, complete with a runway long enough to take the biggest jets.
His first step was to invite the Taoiseach to lunch. Charlie Haughey is a Mayo man and was at the time a Prime Minister in deep political trouble.  Horan emerged with a promise of 8 million pounds for his airport. It was, people said, the most expensive meal Charlie Haughey ever ate. The truth is probably more prosaic. Whatever the explanation, the airport project was viewed with incredulity, derision and outrage by the east-coast establishment which dominates the Republic as surely as its counterpart dominates the political life of the United States. Horan, however, turned this derision back on itself, firstly by mocking it and then by using it to cement local support for his dream.
In due course Haughey fell from power, a Fine Gael/Labour coalition government led by Garret Fitzgerald came into office and the airport ran out of money with the runway two-thirds completed. The new administration loftily refused to throw good money after bad. The weed-strewn ruins of the project, they reasoned, would stand forever as a cautionary monument to Charlie's ruthless profligacy and the folie de grandeur of peasants who had the temerity to aspire to tarmac rather than the grass strip more appropriate to their provincial status.
Which only goes to show how little these eastern grandees knew about James Horan. He turned round and put the screws on the local Catholic community, as well as the Irish diaspora and the European Community and eventually came up with enough cash to finish the runway and build what was not so much a terminal building as a terminal shed. Even then, the establishment had one final shot in its locker. This 'airport' was all very well, they said, sniffily, but who will fly into it? Certainly not Aer Lingus, the state carrier, which viewed Knock with the same fastidious disdain as the government. At this point, Horan and his supporters were genuinely stumped. They were saved by Ryanair, a new independent carrier which had been set up the previous year, and which was eager to find some way - any way - of scoring off Aer Lingus. Ryanair started regular scheduled services from the UK to Knock and it - and the airport - has never looked back.
James Horan died 10 years ago, but at least lived long enough to see his dream realised. What he - and Charlie Haughey - understood is an economic truth which has been all but buried under the weight of Thatcherite and Reaganite dogma, namely that there are times when state investment is the essential prerequisite for development. The advent of an airport with regular jet flights to the UK and elsewhere has transformed the economic and social prospects of Knock's hinterland. It used to take a day's hard travelling to get from Britain to the west of Ireland. Now you get into a plane in Stansted and an hour later walk out into a breeze which comes straight off the Atlantic and has nothing more sinister on it than peat smoke. Now there's a real miracle for you.

(John Naughton, Observer, 2 June)

I was browsing the web one day looking for information on something or other that escapes me now. Quite by chance I came across this article by the Irish-sounding James Naughton.

James just has to be a Paddy. Only an Irish person could hope to understand the twists and turns and nuances that accompany every thought act or omission by any two or more consenting humans in Irish daily life. In this somewhat tongue-in-cheek account of the saga of Knock Airport’s conception, construction and conclusion is told in a singularly unbiased and objective way.

The principal hero (villain?) of this epic tale was Monsignor James Horan, then Parish Priest of Knock. Another Mayo man whose reputation has survived his passing is one Charles J Haughey and he features prominently also. It could be fairly said of both; “Love him or loath him, but you can never ignore him.”

Mind you, in the Monsignor’s case, it is highly unlikely that many people ever disliked him.

“Ní bheidh a leithid ann arís”
(We won’t see his likes again)

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