One of the greatest demonstrations of faith and devotion to Our Lady ever witnessed in the parish of Wexford took place on the evening of May 30th 1955. In the presence of 6,000 townspeople, led by the Mayor and Corporation, His Lordship, Most Rev. Dr. Staunton solemnly blessed and dedicated to Our Lady of Wexford a shrine erected to her honour at Rocklands.
The long procession, headed by the cross bearer and acolytes, and consisting of contingents from every organisation, religious and civil in the Borough set out from the Faythe at 8 p.m. The prayerful journey outwards was devoted to the public recitation of the Rosary, interspersed with the singing of hymns by massed choirs to the accompaniment of the music of the Holy Family Confraternity, Loc Garman, and Boy’s band. The Clergy, accompanied by His Lordship, brought up the rear.
When all the participants had been marshalled into place filling both fields around the shrine, Very Rev. Fr. J. McArdle, O.P., Waterford, ascended the pulpit and preached an eloquent sermon on Our Lady, stressing especially the need for increased devotion to her as a safeguard against the threat of Communism. Then followed Solemn Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, after which His Lordship spoke to his people, saying that he thought at first of calling the Shrine Our Lady of Rocklands, but having seen so many thousands from Wexford come out to honour our Lady, he thought that a more appropriate name would be “Our Lady of Wexford.”
After the Blessing and dedication ceremony, all present, carrying lighted candles, formed a great torchlight procession back to the Church of the Assumption.
This was truly a most inspiring and memorable sight, comparable only to the great torchlight procession of Lourdes. The echoes of the Aves on the night air, the river of light slowly winding down the Faythe, the brilliantly illuminated altars in every window along the route, and then finally the vibrant strains of Faith of Our Fathers, torches held aloft, around the crowned statue, in the grounds of the Church of the Assumption, all left a lasting impression of what was truly a memorable day in the spiritual life of the Parish of Wexford.
The story behind the erection of the Shrine is briefly this : On the suggestion of the members of St. Aidan’s Branch of Muintir na Tire Guild, a meeting was held in the Theatre Royal on August, 3rd, 1954. Under the Chairmanship of V. Rev. J. Butler, Adm., it was decided to erect a wayside Shrine to commemorate the Marian Year and the following committee was formed to carry out the work.
Chairman Rev. Matthew Doyle, C.C. Treasurers Patrick Furlong, J. Sullivan. Committee. V. Rev. J. Butler Adm. V. Rev. H. O’Byrne, President, St. Peter’s College, Patrick Walsh, Dr. P. J. Sinnott, James Morris, Mayor; Sean Scallan, Michael Gaddern and representatives of Múintir na Tíre and other organisations. Ladies Committee: Misses Drury, Walsh, Barker, Furlong and Dr. Aughney.
Voluntary contributions were collected, and an order for a life-size statue of Our Lady in Carrara marble was given to the celebrated Italian firm of Bordese. The general plan for the Shrine was drawn up and executed under the direction of Mr. Foley and Mr. Lennon, Engineers, and Mr. O’Rahilly, Arch. A company of about 20 voluntary workers prepared the site and enclosures, whilst Messrs. Nicholas Cullen and Sons, Faythe, voluntarily carried out all the mason work on the entrance.
The statue was acquired and erected by Mr. T. Hughes. The gates and railings were executed by Mr. M. Hogan; flood lighting by Mr. E. Slevin; Mr. J. Goodman, Prof. Hor. Science, Johnstown Castle, advised on the laying out of the grounds. The ideal site set amidst the rocks on the southern approach to the town was donated by the late Dr. P. J. Sinnott, Rocklands House, whilst the artistic altar, complete with carpets and candle branches was the, gift of Mrs. P. J. Sinnott. The Prie-dieux, “kneelers” and seats were gifts of Mr. D. J. Hearne, Managing Director, Star Iron Works.
This Shrine of Our Lady is very dear to the people of Wexford and plays a very real part in their religious life. Wayfarers pause to pray there, whilst the practice of gathering in groups to recite the Rosary has become widespread. A continuous stream of Our Lady’s clients pass through the gates each day, and up to a few years ago the annual torchlight procession in May was reminiscent of Lourdes. A group of handmaids of Our Lady faithfully attend to the votive lights and flowers. The Shrine, which is brilliantly illuminated at night, turns the travelers’ thoughts to the holy Mother of God.
What more fitting memorial of the Marian Year could guard the entrance to a Parish, whose Churches, dedicated to Our Lady, were opened and blessed at the time of the Apparitions at Lourdes, April 1858.
May She ever bless and protect the families and homes of Our Parish.
“O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee. Our Lady of Wexford,’ Pray for us.”