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Outraged Irish Catholics are fuming after the Virgin-in-a-Tree was vandalized at St. Mary's Church in Rathkeale, County Limerick last weekend.
“This was an action carried out by mindless morons who have nothing better to do,” local shopkeeper Séamus Hogan said.
“It’s extremely disappointing to think that something like this could happen on sacred ground but, thankfully, a group of local women have cleaned it and it has been restored to its former glory."
The tree watchers had noticed the damage on Sunday and a devoted group of women then washed the tree trunk to undo the spray paint job that vandals had given it the night before.
The "holy stump" revealed itself while workmen were cutting down a tree in the graveyard in July. Believers claim to see the image of the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus in the grain.
Catholics from all corners of the country have made the pilgrimage to Rathkeale to pray at the stump, and a petition with over 2,000 names has been signed to prevent it from being removed.
Though the numbers visiting the Holy Stump have gone down, there is still a steady flow of devotees that visit the tree, and the rosary is recited there twice a day at 9 p.m. and 11p.m..
“We have two rosaries every night seven days of the week, and any day you pass by the church grounds you will see visitors’ cars parked outside. The initial euphoria has died down but there are still 10 to 15 people there every night for the rosary,” Hogan added.
This is not the first time that the West Limerick town has been touched by the Virgin mother, as the statue of the blessed mother at St. Mary's Shrine in the town was one of the "moving statues" in the late 80s.