The ‘Irish’ Lourdes Grotto
The Oblate Community in Ireland and Britain has a long connection with the Lourdes Shrine. Since the late 19th century pilgrimages to Lourdes have been a regular feature in our annual calendar excepting during WWI and WWII and the last two years of the Covid pandemic…
Fr. William Ring. O.M.I., led the first Irish Pilgrimage to Lourdes. The group, consisting of 24 pilgrims, travelled from Dublin to Liverpool, England, by boat, sailing from there to Bordeaux, France and finally by train to their final destination, Lourdes, at the foot of the Pyrenees. When Fr. Ring returned from this pilgrimage, he invited an Oblate Brother, Patrick Malone to erect a small grotto in honour of these events at Lourdes, in the grounds of the Oblate Church at Inchicore, Dublin. However, it was not until 1924, when Fr. Michael Sweeney, O.M.I., Superior of the Oblate Community in Inchicore, on returning from a recent pilgrimage to Lourdes, proposed building a replica grotto within the church grounds at Inchicore. He hoped that those who would be unable to undertake the journey to Lourdes would have an opportunity to express their devotion to Our Lady in Ireland. His desire was understandable, as in the 1920s, Lourdes, in southern France was a long distance from Ireland and affordable for very few Irish people.
Who built and designed the grotto?When Fr. Michael Sweeney, Superior of the House in Inchicore, returned from the Lourdes Pilgrimage in 1924, he set about raising funds to erect a replica Lourdes Grotto. The opening of the Grotto was advertised in the national newspapers and more than 18,000 donors contributed circa £8,000 towards its construction, roughly over £500,000 equivalent today.
He engaged Brother Patrick McIntyre, a skilled carpenter, who over time went to Lourdes and measured in detail the contours of the grotto with its cave and niches. The physical work of digging the foundations and building the entire structure was guaranteed by the men from the railways works nearby in Inchicore and also local men who gave their skills, many after working long hours during the day at their employment elsewhere. Supervising this entire project was the genial, Brother McIntyre.
The Grotto when finished was 43ft deep, 130ft wide and 24ft in height. It took two years to complete. It is a full replica grotto of Lourdes, in reinforced concrete, with rough case render to all elevations, covering reinforced concrete and a metal frame. A statute of the Blessed Virgin Mary is elevated in a niche. There is a beautiful altar inside the cave and a special permanent pulpit on one side. Unfortunately, no plan drawings exist of the actual design.
Foundation Blessing and Official Opening of the GrottoThe foundation of the grotto was blessed by Fr. Joseph Scannell, Oblate Provincial Superior, in August 1928. The Grotto was officially opened with the celebration of High Mass by the Shrine, on Sunday, 11 May, 1930, before an estimated 100,000 people, with many people remaining outside the gates of the church and on the main road. Over 2000 people subscribed to the project and a scroll with their names was placed in a special recess at the feet of the statue of Our Lady, which was made from white Carrara marble. The Inchicore Grotto was blessed by the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Edward Byrne, on 11 May, 1930. The preacher for the occasion was Dr. William McNeely, Bishop of Raphoe.
On 11 May 1931, The Irish Catholic Directory, reported, "Not since the Emancipation Centenary celebrations has there been such a wonderful demonstration of devotion in Dublin as that witnessed at Inchicore today at the solemn opening by the Archbishop of Dublin of the Irish Lourdes Grotto in the grounds of the famous Oblate Church."
Today, local Dublin people and visitors from abroad come to light a candle for a special intention or to pray for peace and reconciliation to Our Blessed Lady at the grotto in Inchicore. The Oblates annual Lourdes Novena begins on 2nd February and culminates on the 11th February with the celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, with the traditional torchlight procession at the end of Mass to the Grotto.
By Catherine Mullan, Provincial Archivist