From the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Boherlahan to the Grotto of Lourdes.
As you walk in the gates of the Parish Church in Boherlahan look up and you will see a mosaic of the Grotto of Lourdes — a small town in the foothills of the Pyrenees, south-west France — where in 1858 Our Lady appeared to 14 year old Bernadette Soubirous eighteen times from February 11th to 16th July.
At the time of the apparitions Bernadette was a poor, sickly girl from the town of Lourdes — amongst the poorest of the poor in the town at the time. Her family had been reduced to the ignominy of taking refuge in the disused prison known as the ‘Cachot’ (literally the place where you put something you want to forget about!!) as they could no longer afford to pay rent on any accommodation in Lourdes.
At the time Bernadette met with a lot of disbelief and hardship in trying to relay the message of this ‘lady’ who asked her to do her the favour of coming to the Grotto of Massabielle for 15 days. St Bernadette did not know who this beautiful lady was — she called her ‘Aquero’ (a local dialectal word meaning ‘the person or thing’) — and it was on the 25th March 1858 that the lady revealed herself as ‘The Immaculate Conception’ — words that St Bernadette did not understand. But when she repeated them back to the parish priest of Lourdes he believed that this poor, uneducated young girl was indeed receiving visits from the mother of God…
The Catholic Church officially recognised the apparitions of Lourdes in 1862 and since then Lourdes has developed into the Marian Shrine we know today, welcoming pilgrims from literally all over the world — including Boherlahan Dualla’s faithful pilgrims!
In the early 20th century the first Irish National Pilgrimage to Lourdes took place — circa 1913 — which of course was quite an achievement at the time for Irish Catholics! Following this pilgrimage the people of Ireland were asked to donate what they could to give a gift to the Sanctuary of Lourdes from the people of Ireland. This gift is still very much in evidence today in the Sanctuary — the Celtic Cross and Crown that crowns the Rosary Basilica (see photo). People from all over the country donated money and jewellery to have this cross and crown made — at a time (to quote one of our pilgrims) when the people of Ireland did not have much to give and at a very turbulent time in Irish history. So it is nice to see the Cross and Crown in place today 100 years later — we make a point of bringing it to the attention of our pilgrims during the short introductory tour of the Sanctuary.
Little did I think as a child or teenager, going in the gates of Boherlahan Church to 8:30am Mass on Sundays, Novena on Monday evenings and other Masses or ceremonies with my family or with the school, that I would find myself working in the Marian Shrine depicted on our Parish Church wall and living in a small village (Loubajac) that itself had organised the first ‘official’ parish pilgrimage to the Grotto of Lourdes in 1862 — the first person to be ‘cured’ at the Grotto in 1858 was a lady from the parish of Loubajac.
My ‘story’ with Lourdes, I suppose, started when my mother, Breda Trainor, came to Lourdes on pilgrimage in 1993 with the Cashel and Emly Diocesan Pilgrimage. She was very taken by Lourdes and spoke very enthusiastically about her few days here. At the time I was in France at the opposite end of the country and when I returned home in August my mother told me about her experience on the pilgrimage and the young people working as volunteers etc. So Lourdes was a topic of conversation in the house when an ad appeared in a national newspaper for a job as a ‘courier’/tour guide in Lourdes — French required! As my mother had brought home a book about Lourdes I had a quick read of it before attending the job interview — to gain a small amount of knowledge in the days before ‘Google’ and Wikipedia!!!! And so I travelled out to Lourdes for a couple of weeks work with a Dublin based tour operator — and the rest is history!
Over the years I have been delighted to meet many of my fellow parishioners in Lourdes on pilgrimage. In the early years I would have spotted Maria Wade, Jovita Delaney and others in passing as my work didn’t involve me directly with the Cashel & Emly pilgrimage as such. In those days the pilgrimage travelled with a different tour operator. Then in the early 2000’s the C & E pilgrimage started travelling to Lourdes with Joe Walsh Tours (my employer) and so I was needless to say more than delighted to have the opportunity to work alongside my own!! What a delight for a few brief days in June to meet Jovita, Dan & Helen Ryan, Lucy and Judy Ryan, Mary Donnelly, Tommy Gorman, Mary Tarrant, Maresa Donnelly, Marie Wallace, Kitty and Philip Ryan (and the forgotten bag!!) and John Burke (RIP) — amongst many others over the years, even if only for a quick hello. For a short time I would feel a bit closer to home!!
At times I was able to attend some of the C & E ceremonies and so feel a part of the pilgrimage. My own parents have travelled out on a couple of occasions at the same time as the pilgrimage, and my son Clement was possibly the youngest ‘pilgrim’ in 2009 when at 5 months he was brought along to Mass with C & E by Granny and Grandad — my parents!
Nowadays my work keeps me at times in the ‘background’ but I still manage to see some of the Boherlahan and Dualla pilgrims while they are here with C & E. A quick visit to the Sanctuary when the Cashel pilgrims are getting ready for the official pilgrimage photo ensures that I get to see some of the locals — and a hug from Lucy Ryan brought with love direct from Ardmayle!
Of course since last year, 2016, our fellow parishioner, Fr Jimmy Donnelly, is director of the C & E pilgrimage so it is great to work alongside him when my help is needed. It’s great to be able to look after our own out here!
Of course I am looking forward to seeing some familiar faces here in June 2017. In the meantime I will remember your intentions at the Grotto.
Click on images below.
Breda and Oliver Trainor with grandson Clement near the Grotto in 2014.
The Tipperary Rose visits Lourdes.
A Youth Group from Cashel leaving their hotel.
Irish cadets with the Tricolour during the annual International Military Pilgrimage in May.
Vatican Swiss Guards in Lourdes during the International Military Pilgrimage.