Welcome to Baptismaland

The former Irish shrine of Knock is grey and gloomy when we arrive.

“Welcome to Baptismaland,” a woman in full nun garb greets us at the gates of the once famous shrine and encourages us towards the over-sized font.

We’re hassled by people in their Sunday best thrusting baskets in our faces for monetary contributions, which we must pass along to those who have come in behind us while they stand guard. We catch sight of the main attraction: a fortified walled school in a moat of murky water. Security is tight and members of the Board of Management are stationed along several look-out posts. Families unable to produce baptismal certificates are unequivocally and sternly turned away. Those who attempt to make it across the moat to scale the wall are shot down with holy water cannons. It’s a bleak scene.

Next to the school sits a replica of a section of The M50 congested with Pope Mobiles, each with a sole occupant while Penny’s shopping bags clog up the remaining  limited space. At various exits, spires from a series of blinding white buildings stand to attention against the skyline; each emblazoned with various latter-day saints: St. Dundrum, St. Liffey Valley, St. Victoria Square, St. Tiger. St. Parenting.

A sign for ‘Confessional Box’ leads us through a darkened doorway where we board the Holy Ghost Train. Our carriage careers along a rickety track in an eerie darkness momentarily broken by flash bulbs illuminating what looks like the walking dead holding up various signs: Magdalene Laundrette Survivor: 1950 – 1975, Symphysiotomy Victim 1978, Brendan Smyth Victim: For the rest of my life. With no small amount of relief, we eventually come to an abrupt halt in what we soon discover is an empty Dail Chamber. Coats and papers have been deserted and the jovial din of bonhomie can be heard on loop through a vent from a room named ‘Dail Bar’. It’s eight in the morning.

We exit through the gift shop, picking up key-rings with broken pelvic bones, nicotine-flavour communion shaped gum, and a BAPP – an app that maps how many schools remain under Catholic patronage within a mile radius from where the user is based. Cardinal Sean Brady before and after Brendan Smyth postcards sell out before we get to them.

Here it is: the latest exhibition from Banksy, the art world’s favourite agent provocateur. Billed as a “bemusement park” and modelled after his previous Dismaland, it’s an interpretation of contemporary Ireland following the Fifth Amendment to The Irish Constitution that removed the “special position” of The Roman Catholic Church in…1973. Officially opening to the public on Saturday, August 21, it’s Banksy’s only Irish based exhibition to date and tickets are expected to sell out fast. Don’t miss it.

water cannon

Parents and children attempting to register in the primary school

(source: youtube)

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