Remembering tales of apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Ireland on the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception. 

Today, December 8, marks the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception in the Catholic Church. The meaning given behind the religious day of obligation, according to the teaching of the Catholic Church, is that this day marked the conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the womb of her mother, Saint Anne, free from original sin by virtue of the foreseen merits of her son Jesus Christ.

In Ireland until quite recently, December 8 was a major feast day and all schools would close. It was also traditionally when people would start their Christmas shopping and towns and cities began to bustle with the feeling of festivities in the air.

To mark the more religious aspect of the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception, here’s a list of some of the reported religious apparitions from Ireland:

Virgin and Child on stump in Rathkeale, Limerick

The Holy Tree Stump of Rathkeale in 2009. (

The Holy Tree Stump of Rathkeale in 2009. (

Legend has it that a female specter which haunted the churchyard in Rathkeale, Limerick, was so terrifying that all who looked upon her died soon after. A local man banished the ghost by slicing off her arm with his sword and praying for the rest of the night.

In an odd coincidence in 2009, the Limerick Newswire reported that a tree stump in the churchyard contains the image of the Virgin Mary and Child and that hundreds of visitors had come to the area to pray.

Weeping Statue in Dungloe at the Kerrytown shrine in Donegal (2009)

The Independent reports that on September 29, 2009, fourteen people claimed to witness crosses that formed in the sky above the shrine, before the statue became animated and began to weep. The shrine had become a popular site after producing a religious apparition seventy years ago.

Kerrytown, Donegal (1939)

Perhaps further supporting the 2009 visions in Dungloe, visions were reported here in 1939 also. An apparition of the Virgin Mary appeared on a dark knight to be shining bright on a nearby granite rock.

Rocking Virgin Mary at Ballinspittle grotto in Cork

Cathy O'Mahony and her mother observed the statue of the Virgin Mary rocking on its heels on July 22, 1985. The following night they returned with friends who observed the same event. Since this time, tens of thousands of people have visited the shrine in the hope of seeing something. The Independent reports more recently that O’Mahony stands by her observations, despite others ridiculing her.

Knock Shrine in Knock, Mayo

The Knock Shrine Basilica.

The Knock Shrine Basilica.

Arguably the most famous of Irish apparitions, the Knock Shrine vision occurred on August 21, 1879, at about 8 o'clock. Our Lady, St. Joseph, and St. John the Evangelist appeared in a blaze of Heavenly light at the south gable of Knock Parish Church in Mayo. The site is now a largely visited spot for devout Catholics.

Carns Grotto in Sligo

In 1985, four teenage girls reportedly saw a vision of Our Lady and St. Bernadette on a west Sligo road, which had the effect of feeling what they say was like “an electric shock” on their bodies. A shrine has since been built at the Carns Grotto site, and the four women remain steadfast in their belief of what they saw that evening.

Ardboe in Tyrone

In August 1954, Teresa Grimes saw a vision of the Virgin Mary in a nearby bush. In the days following, women in Antrim also reported seeing visions of the Virgin. Crowds flocked to the area for the Immaculate Conception that December.

Melleray Grotto in Waterford

In 1985, a local teenager, Ursula O’Rourke, said the Blessed Virgin appeared to her and delivered to her several messages. During the following days, several other people saw apparitions at the site and received similar messages as Ursula.

Visions of the Virgin Mary in Bessbrook, Armagh

In 1987, teenager Mark Trainor and housewife Beulah Lynch began to have visions of the Virgin Mary at the Lady of Lourdes shrine in Bessbrook, Armagh. Similar to Melleray Grotto, the visions continued during the next several days, and messages were delivered to seers there.

Eamon de Valera’s vision of Christ

In 2010, a biography of Eamon de Valera reported that the former Irish president had a vision of Christ at Blackrock College in 1928, two years after he founded Fianna Fáil.

*Originally published in 2016, last updated in December 2020.

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