West Cork resident Jacqueline Maguire is on a mission to match the number of her pilgrimages to Lourdes with the years of her age. Jacqueline, who has limited walking ability, having been diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a child, made her first visit at nine years old and is currently on her 51st pilgrimage this week with the Carmelites from Cork.

She relates her life-long link with Lourdes.

“I was born,” she begins, “youngest of five, at 26 weeks, in a Dún Laoghaire nursing home on 21 January 1961. Unwell from birth, my condition taking some considerable time to diagnose. Mum was Mary Josephine (née Sharpe) from Dublin and Dad, Martin James (Séamus to his family), from Knockcroghery, Roscommon. He was a district manager with the national transport company, Córas Iompar Éireann (CIÉ), until its division into road and rail, progressing with the latter to become staff relations manager. My parents were good practising Catholics, so this ethos pervaded from a young age”.

Jacqueline Maguire at her residence in Rathbarry, near Clonakilty is on a mission to travel to Lourdes once for each year of her life.

When Jacqueline was four, the family relocated to Limerick for her father’s work and this is where she began her education at the Salesian Primary Girls’ School. This was, she said, “exceptional for the time as primary schools rarely took children with disabilities. On returning to Dublin, I resumed education at Lady Goulding’s Central Remedial Clinic (CRC) based primary school in Clontarf. Dad was a board member of the clinic and a bonus was visits to the Kinsealy residence of Charles Haughey where we rode his horses.”

A horse-riding holiday in Castlefreke, west Cork, inspired her father to purchase a site at Rathbarry for their retirement residence, which is now Jacqueline’s home.

First visit to Lourdes

Jacqueline’s parents organised the first CRC pilgrimage to Lourdes in 1970, but with her mother unable to travel, she was accompanied by her brother, Conor.

“I knew little about Lourdes then, but since, through my 50 pilgrimages, the story and the location have enthralled me so much that I have been able to lead other groups there.

“Bernadette’s legacy – accepted by the Catholic Church in 1862 – is phenomenal. Bringing the identity of her ‘mystery Lady’, ‘I am the Immaculate Conception’, to her parish priest caused him to build a chapel over the Massabielle grotto, employing her father in the construction. Her adversaries, the local police and judiciary, became her unwitting witnesses as they necessarily recorded her unwavering calmness and unflinching narration of her visions throughout their interrogations.”

The apparition descriptions of this chronically ill daughter of destitute grain-millers would make Lourdes second only to Paris for accommodation in France and would welcome millions to the region over the years. At the first Lourdes “Tour de France” Mass in 1994, previous winner, Gino Bartoli, donated his yellow jersey to the shrine.

51st trip

At Maynooth College, part of Jacqueline’s primary degree course required her to live in a French-speaking region for three months. Hospitality facilities to suit her medical needs were scarce.

She volunteered to travel to Lourdes but was told that too many English speakers resided there!

Her college mentor, the late Father Michael Ross, arranged accommodation in a Lyons convent.

After her first month, she caught an overnight train to spend time in Lourdes. However, on arrival, she received word from home that she had failed her course.

Her next available return flight to Ireland via Belfast resulted in Jacqueline’s shortest stay in Lourdes – 36 hours. Her longest stay – 10 weeks – occurred some years earlier. On another occasion, needing Lourdes Hospital treatment at three in the morning, the group’s spiritual adviser, Fr Pat McAuliffe, found that the hospital would not accept traveller’s cheques. A “whip-around” of fellow pilgrims secured her release from the facility. In 1981, Jacqueline found herself – the only one of her party in a wheelchair – in the 42nd Eucharistic Congress Procession with the late Cardinal Tomás O’Fiaich. The Cardinal stretched his hand to shake hers – prompting others to do likewise with this “unknown celebrity”!

Visitors with Mary

From 1962, the late Máire Smye organised pilgrimages to Lourdes. She named the concept “Cuartóiraí le Mhuire” – Visitors with Mary – or CLM. Máire canvassed far and wide for pilgrims and eventually acquired a number of coaches. Sometime in the 1980s, Jacqueline received an invitation on Saturday to travel on Sunday with Máire to Lourdes. Jacqueline was awaiting a renewal of her passport by post, which meant that the invitation would have to be turned down. Lo! Behold! However, she discovered that her passport had in fact arrived in Friday’s post! Seat secured!

Jacqueline’s greatest memory of Lourdes was in 1991 when she travelled with a wheelchair, requiring two sticks for limited walking. Six weeks later, she was able to walk with just one stick! She felt that she had off-loaded “heavy stuff”; apt in that “Lourdes” literally is heavy in French!

Jacqueline is thankful to her friends and family who are a constant support and enhancement to her life. She began her 51st trip to Lourdes on 27 September 2022.


At Maynooth College, Jacqueline achieved a BA in Theology and French; an MA in Pastoral Studies and H Dips in Pastoral Studies and Adult Education. She has presented programmes on Radio Maria and initiated a “drop-in” club called PAT which she runs from O’Donovan’s Hotel, Clonakilty on Tuesdays. In her younger days, Jacqueline broke national records for many sports in National Association for Cerebral Palsy competitions both here and abroad. Her poetry has been published in an Irish Wheelchair Association booklet called This Ability, which has gone to many countries of the world. She has also written for the Alive newspaper.

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