Mary Who? -★★★★
One Million Dubliners director Aoife Kelleher is back with another fascinating documentary that some people would happily sweep under the carpet. Strange Occurrences looks at how the Knock Shrine came about, its upkeep, and place in an Ireland where the Catholic Church has fallen from grace. As with her first feature documentary, she lets the people do the talking and leaves it up to you to take from it what you will.
Fr. Gibbons the Knock parish priest informs us of the history and what is involved in a frank cheery manner. He admits when he first learned he was being sent to Knock that he wasn’t jumping for joy. He has embraced the challenge of being the captain of a very unique Irish shrine which is visited by over one million pilgrims a year. Fr Gibbons is not a typical dowdy dandruff bespeckled priest and yet is not as forlorn or cynical as a Fr. Ted. He seems like a cross between Daniel O’Donnell and Francis Brennan. In a good way.
Never lingering too long with one contributor we come across all manner of worshipper all in search of something different. Whether it’s a cure, a wage in the form of selling mementos or being a tour guide Knock welcomes all comers. Some are less palatable than others with one shop owner and his particular brand of rosary bead making me more shocked than any horror of late. We also come face-to-face with the handmaidens who at first may be mistaken for Nuns but are volunteers who help out at the shrine. One handmaid is Mildred Beirne who is not shy in her beliefs or the fact she feels the women are getting an unfair time at Knock and must stand up for themselves.
The Knock Marriage Bureau is just one of the other jewels in the Knock crown. Here a priest and lay woman describe how they match potential suitors, mostly farming men and female teachers. The humour is unscripted yet flows naturally from the sheer oddity of the situation.
One can lead a very sheltered life in the confines of one’s twitter profile of like minded people. What documentaries like Strange Occurrences show us are that there are many different voices to be heard and they don’t all agree with you. Just like Love/Hate is not Dublin, Strange Occurrences is not rural religious Ireland. Yet it is perhaps a timely documentary which in some way shows what may lie in wait for Repeal the 8th campaigners.
And remember there is nothing glamourous about blessing Holy Water.
Strange Occurrences In A Small Irish Village opens Friday the 26th of August