Mayo Worship House Questioned

FAILTE Ireland, the Irish tourist board, has launched an investigation into complaints that it is helping promote the controversial House of Prayer on Achill Island, Co. Mayo, as major tourist retreat.Tourism chiefs have been alerted to the fact that visitors to Ireland seeking pilgrimage sites are being directed by Failte Ireland's website -- -- to a number of locations including the Achill one under its full title Our Lady's House of Prayer.It is currently under investigation by Gardai (police) and revenue chiefs.The center, founded by plumber's daughter Christina Gallagher, lost its charitable status two years ago when it was shown that the company running it posted profits of almost $4 million in 2005.Gallagher owns a $6.2 million mansion almost 200 miles away in the upmarket seaside village of Malahide near Dublin and drives a top-of-the-range BMW.Just three months ago the Archbishop of Tuam, Dr. Michael Neary, issued a public statement warning that the so-called House of Prayer does not have church approval and that work at the retreat did not enjoy the confidence of the diocesan authorities.Now, after attention was drawn by a Sunday newspaper to the Bord Failte Internet link, the management of Knock Shrine, which is also in Mayo and where Pope John Paul celebrated Mass during his 1979 visit to Ireland, has lodged a formal complaint.Knock Shrine assistant manager Pat Lavelle said the Failte Ireland link was "inappropriate" and misleading for tourists and pilgrims."It is something you have to be careful about. Knock is an international Marian shrine with the same status as Lourdes and Fatima and the House of Prayer certainly is not. The website puts it on the same level as us which is misleading," he said.Failte Ireland has said it's considering removing the House of Prayer from its website as it would be inappropriate to promote it due to the Garda investigation. Failte Ireland also admitted there is no quality control on its website with regards to promoting religious attractions.Gallagher founded the House of Prayer after she claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary in 1988. She claims to still receive regular messages from the Virgin Mary and to suffer from unexplained stigmata.However, in recent months she has become the focus of a number of newspaper reports of details of her considerable wealth, her multi-million dollar property portfolio and use of luxury cars. The claims have been disputed by her supporters.Father Fintan Monahan, Tuam diocesan secretary said he would urge people visiting the House of Prayer to be "very careful and circumspect."A spokesperson at the House of Prayer refused to comment, except to say, "People are still coming. We're stronger than ever."The center does have its supporters. Dara Calleary, Fianna Fail TD (member of Parliament) for Mayo, said, "People need to be careful with their financial dealings, but it doesn't take away from the fact that people have taken comfort from the House of Prayer over the years."