The ‘Moving Statue’ at Ballinspittle , County Cork

The ‘Moving Statue’ at Ballinspittle , County Cork

The Irish people have always had a special devotion to the Virgin Mary. Many songs told of her desolation and unbearable sorrow as she saw her son Jesus put to death , and she has always been regarded as a special sympathiser in times of misfortune and as a refuge for those in despair.

There is therefore a long tradition of communicating with Mary in personal prayer. In overt custom , however , the large array of local Irish saints – both male and female – have predominated , with the result that Marian devotion in terms of processions and statues has not been as marked in Ireland as  in other European countries.

All of this changed in recent centuries , with the promotion of the image of Mary as ‘Queen of Heaven’. In 1832 she was said to have appeared to a man in Charleville , County Cork , warning of a cholera epidemic. Then there were the famous apparitions at Knock in County Mayo in 1879 , and the less influential reports of appearances of the Virgin in 1939 at Kerrytown , County Donegal.

Pilgrimages of the great centres of Marian devotion abroad increased through the 20th century , and one widespread tradition of Southern Europe gradually gained currency in Ireland – the cult of statues.

There were sporadic reports of these showing signs of life , and a particularly controversial case at Templemore , County Tipperary , in 1920 , concerned a ‘bleeding’ statue. The greatest stir of all was caused , however , in the late summer of 1985 , when statues of Mary over a wide area – particularly in Munster – were said to be moving and shedding tears. Large crowds gathered to pray at these statues , most notably at one in a village south-west of Kinsale. This village inherited a caring name from olden times , Baile an Spideil (literally , ‘town of the hospital’).

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