In the midst of the deepest recession in Irish history, busloads of Irish pilgrims began arriving and the local bars and shops of Ballinspittle did a trade like they’d never seen before. A quarter of a million people from every corner of Ireland came to see that statue move. What must our unionist neighbors to the north have made of the spectacle?
“We all experienced a sense of peace and protection, that we were all being protected,” Mahony told the press. Considering the general poverty of the times, it’s hardly surprising that the prospect of a little peace and protection attracted as many pilgrims as it did. The piety on their faces in the newsreels, and the hope, the bottomless hope, are very moving.
Of course the Church never endorsed the Ballinspittle apparitions and made no secret of the fact that they would have rather it had all gone away. This was by the people, for the people and they kept out of it. Bishop Murphy of Cork advised caution. But after decades of poverty and hopelessness the people of Ballinspittle were for throwing caution to the wind.
And just in case you think that all these visions and apparitions belong to yesteryear Ireland, would you be surprised to hear that thousands of people arrived to pray at a tree stump that looked like the Virgin Mary in Rathkeale, County Limerick in 2009?
The story goes that a couple of lads were cutting down a tree on the grounds of a church in Rathkeale when one of them thought he could see the image of a woman in the pattern on the tree stump which - on further examination - he decided was the Virgin Mary. Rathkeale parish priest, Fr Joe Dempsey, instantly took off for a fortnight’s holiday whilst 2,000 local people signed a petition to prevent the tree’s removal.
Recession. Poverty. Visions. The link between the three in Ireland is now a matter of historical fact. And so is the disappointment experienced by tens of thousands when their brightest hopes go unfulfilled.
And just this week, when Ireland is once again mired in an intractable recession – two men who claim to be psychics – led almost ten thousand people back to Knock for an apparition of the Virgin they claimed would appear. She never did, though. They were on their own.