Monday, April 26, 2010

Musical to recall famous Knock priest

A new musical is to recall the life and work of Mayo priest Monsignor James Horan, best remembered for his role as parish priest of Knock and his campaign to build an airport to serve the west of Ireland region (pictured left, welcoming Pope John Paul II to Knock in 1979).

The production, entitled, On A Wing and a Prayer - The Musical, will be premiered in the Royal Theatre, Castlebar next November.

The script has been written by journalist Terry Reilly, who wrote the book On A Wing and a Prayer on the same subject. Mr Reilly has now adapted the work for a stage production that will bring to life the work of the late monsignor, who died in 1986.

The musical will depict the career of Monsignor Horan, who is credited with transforming Knock Shrine into a major pilgrimage attraction, by building up a range of amenities and erecting the basilica.

He was also instrumental in bringing about the visit in 1979 of Pope John Paul II to mark the centenary of the apparition of the Blessed Virgin at Knock. In his earlier years, he built a ballroom to help raise funds for his parish.

But the monsignor’s biggest undertaking was to spearhead the building of an international airport near Knock. It was all the more remarkable that Msgr Horan was 70 when he launched the campaign for a regional airport in the west of Ireland in 1981.

The campaign was controversial and many detractors doubted the feasibility of the project.

One government minister dismissed the idea of building an airport on what he termed “a foggy, boggy hill.”

While the coalition government of the day initially gave the green light to the airport, budgetary restraints forced it to cut off State funding halfway through the construction of the airport. Unfazed, Monsignor Horan began a fund-raising campaign in Ireland and among emigrants abroad, to raise money to finish the airport.

The airport finally opened in 1986, but sadly, Monsignor Horan died suddenly while on a visit to Lourdes a few months later.

Mr Reilly said last week that by any measure, the life of Monsignor Horan and his commitment to his people and the region “would be hard to surpass. It had everything, concern for people, enterprise, colour, humour, pathos, immense energy, unique vision, victory over adversity, and much more,” he said.

The objective of his musical was to “transmit this wonderful Horan package to the stage in an entertaining, uplifting manner,” said Mr Reilly.

Auditions for parts in the show are to be held over the next few months to recruit suitable acting, singing and back-stage talent.

Mr Reilly said that the musical would “bring Msgr Horan’s amazing work to life again in what we want to be a memorably colourful production.”

Proceeds from the musical will go to the Mayo/Roscommon Hospice, which has to raise over €1m a year to fund its palliative care services.


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