Virgin Mary Spotted In Irish Tree
Religious fever has taken root in the Irish village of Rathkeale, Co Limerick, after workmen claimed the image of the Virgin Mary appeared in the remains of a felled churchyard tree. The supposed vision surprised locals who have come in their hundreds to pray and light candles in the grounds of Holy Mary Parish church. While some believe the willow should be preserved and covered in glass, others think the believers are just barking up the wrong tree. Noel White, Rathkeale Community Council Graveyard Committee chairman, said workmen sprucing up the church land saw the image when they cut the tree. "One of the lads said look, our Blessed Lady in the tree," Mr White said. "One of the other lads looked over and actually knelt down and blessed himself, he got such a shock. "It was the perfect shape of the figure of Our Lady holding the baby." Candles and rosary beads have been draped over the stump by prayerful locals with up to 700 holding a candlelight vigil last night and into the early hours of the morning. Mr White said people have been travelling from neighbouring Co Kerry as word of the phenomenon spread, while it is believed a local Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) club from a nearby parish also brought two busloads of people. "It is just a tree, but it is what it depicts when you look at it," Mr White said. "It is just phenomenal what's going on. And it's not just Rathkeale, they're coming in from all over the place." But not all villagers have seen the supposedly divine image with some treating the discovery with scepticism. Local priest Fr Willie Russell refused to get caught up in the hype but said he was not surprised by the outpouring of interest. "This is just going to go on and on," he said. "My impression of it at the moment is that I have no impression of it. "It doesn't interest me that much at the moment. "I have seen the tree ... it's only a tree."Fr Russell also insisted not everyone in the area believes the image of Our Lady appeared on the tree. "The local views are kind of mixed," the priest added. Scepticism over the reported appearance is shared by the Catholic Church's hierarchy in Ireland, according to Fr Paul Finnerty, official spokesman for the Limerick diocese. "The Church's response to phenomena of this type is one of great scepticism," he said. "While we do not wish in any way to detract from devotion to Our Lady, we would also wish to avoid anything which might lead to superstition." Cynics have already pointed to the coincidental timing of Ireland's latest "appearance" amidst a recession after the Celtic Tiger boom years. The last time the country was plagued by massive joblessness in the 1980s there were numerous reported sightings of moving statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary. One of the first - and most prominent of the alleged phenomena - was in Ballinspittle, in Co Cork, where locals insisted they witnessed the statue of Our Lady floating in the air. The claims drew worldwide attention as busloads flocked from long distances to see the roadside grotto in the small rural village in the hope of seeing the same. The "sighting" sparked a wave of similar claims around the country as people held vigils at other roadside grottoes which mostly sprang up during the Marian Year of 1953. Former postmaster and councillor John Griffin said that while he had no difficulty with people coming together to pray, it was just a tree stump. "I respect everybody's belief but when I heard about this and had a look, what I saw were the remains of a felled tree," Mr Griffin said. "I see a shape, the shape of a felled tree. It is in the shape of a cloaked lady or cloaked person, but that's because of the way it was cut. I'm not attributing anything supernatural." But for believers the big question is what to do now? "If it is left there I would imagine we would have to get expert advice on how to preserve it, maybe cover it with glass or something," Mr White said. "Because people are taking bits off the tree or stroking the tree and taking the skin off, and if they keep doing that there'll be nothing there soon." Fr Russell added: "Whatever the people want, there's no problem there. It doesn't create a problem for me."