James Horan was a Parish Priest of Knock (1967-1986) and the driving force behind the successful campaign to establish an airport in Knock.
Born in Partry, between Castlebar and Ballinrobe in County Mayo, Horan was educated at St Jarlath's College in Tuam and trained for the priesthood in St Patrick's College, Maynooth. He was ordained in 1936 and had spells in Glasgow and Ballyglunin in Galway, and even spent time as chaplain on an ocean liner before returning to his native Mayo as curate in Tooreen. His project here was the popular dance hall that he raised funds for in America.
Horan was then posted in Cloonfad, on the Roscommon-Mayo border, before being transferred to Knock in 1963. The Mayo man had a desire to improve the local area as he saw the hardships people had to face on a daily basis. He also wanted to develop the area with a view to cutting down the number of people leaving the country to find work elsewhere.
While the airport is often seen as his greatest achievement, Horan did a lot more for Knock. During his time he oversaw the construction of a new church for the shrine, and the shrine was visited by Pope John Paul II in 1979, marking the centenary of the apparitions.
Undoubtedly Monsignor Horan will be remembered for his role in the building of Knock Airport on a 'foggy, boggy site’, a feat many said could never be achieved. The Taoiseach at the time, Charles Haughey, approved funding for IR£10,000,000. However, after Fianna Fail was defeated in the 1984 general election, the money was cut and the airport left unfinished. Undeterred, Horan raised the IR£4,000,000 needed through a lottery draw after travelling as far as Australia and America seeking money. Horan saw his dream realised when the airport was officially opened on 30 May 1986. The fundraising tour left him in poor health however and he passed away during a pilgrimage trip on August 1, 1986. His remains were flown to Knock, an act that would not have been possible without his hard work.
Mosignor Horan dedicated himself to his local community and the airport many said would never be built, continues to grow in stature today. The story of the building of Knock Airport is told in the song 'Knock' by Christy Moore and Horan's life and work is chronicled in 'A Wing And A Prayer’, a musical by Terry Reilly and Tommy Marren.