Mystery of the Carfin cure

The 'Scotch boat' S.S. Lairdsglen which ferried Catholic pilgrams from Derry to Scotland in the 1930s.
The 'Scotch boat' S.S. Lairdsglen which ferried Catholic pilgrams from Derry to Scotland in the 1930s.

Seventy five years ago this week, Derry was buzzing with the incredible stories of St. Columb’s Wells man John McCarron and a 13 year old Strabane girl both of whoms condition had improved significantly after a pilgrimage to Carfin.

The pair it seemed had undergone, what was all but reported as miracle recoveries. The 21 year old Mr. McCarron had been unable to walk for a period of three years and, despite having been tended to at the City and County Hospital for some 15 months, proved determined to board the ‘Scotch boat’ and complete a pilgrimage to the famous Scottish shrine of Our Lady at Carfin, on the West coast of Scotland.

The Carfin pilgrimage was a very popular one. Thousands of Derry pilgrims visiting the Lanarkshire village between 1920 and the 1960s when its popularity waned.

“Walked for the first time in three years” screamed the ‘Journal’ headline, as despite having been stretchered onto the boat for the outward journey, John McCarron walked down the gangway “unaided” when the S.S. Lairdsglen completed the return journey to Derry.

The Journal edition of Wednesday August 4, 1937, reported that McCarron was: “Conveyed to the boat on a stretcher from hospital where he had lain for the past fifteen months, paralysed from the waist down with rheumatism.

“He had been a victim of the malady for over three years, during which he was unable to walk.

“A short time ago he expressed the desire to travel on the pilgrimage to Carfin. He was medically advised against undertaking the journey, but he insisted so strongly that his medical advisors had to give way to his wish.

“He was suffering much pain when removed from Hospital,” reported the press.

Speaking to the ‘Journal’ at the time Mr. McCarron said upon his return to the Derry dock: “I became conscious of a change on the way to Carfin from Glasgow and following benediction of the Blessed Sacrament at the Shrine I felt the pain easing.”

To his delight he found that he could walk again. Mr. McCarron informed reporters that it was the first time he had walked in three years. Asked would he be returning to hospital McCarron replied: “No I think I am done with hospitals and can feel that I am going to make a full recovery.”

There was another “remarkable case” on board the boat trip reported the paper; “A thirteen year old girl named Lyons from Strabane who was one of six stretcher cases” on the pilgrimage.

According to no less a source than the MP for Foyle, Mr P. Maxwell MP who also attended the Carfin pilgrimage; “As her stretcher bearers were removing the girl from the shrine after Benediction they left down the stretcher in order to rest. Then the girl, who had been paralysed suddenly rose and, clapping her hands joyously, ran towards the shrine exclaiming ‘Mother, Mother.’”

The testimony did the reputation of Mr. Maxwell no harm as having been elected to parliament in 1937 he kept his seat for some 16 years, until 1953.

The witness also said that the girl had “become exhausted in a short time and had to be carried ashore but her condition was declared to be considerably improved.” The report does not say who made the medical diagnosis however.

Fellow worshippers were reported by the MP to be “almost dumbfounded.” There were other accounts of pilgrims purporting to have had their arthritic conditions healed at the shrine over the course of years however these two cases on the one trip lived longest in local memory.

Mr. Maxwell MP had organised the trip with the aid of a Mr. James Gallagher, was led by Rev. J. O’Doherty CC St Eugene’s Cathedral.

The Journal unsuccessfully attempted to track down the family of John McCarron. If you know more on the story or knew Mr. McCarron, please contact us on 71 272276.