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Wednesday, 29 March, 2000, 16:01 GMT 17:01 UK
A moving tale from County Cork
Statue of Virgin Mary
The statue of the Virgin Mary at Ballinspittle
By Dublin correspondent Kevin Connolly

When the first stories of the moving statue of the Virgin Mary in Ballinspittle, County Cork, emerged 15 years ago, they prompted religious fervour in Ireland and curiosity around the world.

Could the monument really be sending some sort of message to the faithful ?

In other circumstances you would call it a strangely moving sight. On a blustery day with a hint of rain to it, a small group of worshippers gathers before what is perhaps the world's most famous statue of the Virgin Mary.

They are among the many who do not doubt the continuing stories of how the statue is often seen to move by those who come to the roadside grotto to pray.


A sceptic, or indeed a scientist, might tell you it is an optical illusion caused by staring at the crown of tiny electric lights around the head. But no-one here would listen.

Police sergeant who saw statue move
John Murray: convinced he saw statue move
Police sergeant John Murray is a bright, down-to-earth character, but he is a true believer too, unconcerned at the ridicule his conviction has attracted.

He is quite sure what he saw.

"Rosaries were being said, hymns were being sung. Suddenly, without warning, it was as if the statue simply took off and became airborne. People would say: 'This guy is seeing something moving that physically can't move - is he OK ?' "


Stories like the Ballinspittle statue divide Irish opinion into three camps.

There are of course the true believers and then there are the sceptics who despair at the old fashioned image of the country it all conjures up.

But somewhere in the middle, as Ireland changes, is a much larger body of opinion that is simply left strangely unmoved by it all.

The daily Pat Kenny show on RTE radio is an intercom for the concerns of the Irish nation, where the renewed debate about whether or not the statue moves has been aired.

Pat Kenny himself says it is an interesting measure of how the old Ireland is vanishing that listeners proud of their country's booming economy view it all with a certain exasperation.

Broadcaster Pat Kenny at RTE studios
Pat Kenny: the old Ireland is vanishing
"I think the Celtic tiger has probably blown away a lot of the cobwebs and a lot of the mythology that people were content to live with when we were poor, unemployed and in hock.

"Nowadays the drive to materialism has probably got rid of a lot of those sides of our life - for better or for worse."


Naturally, all this presents the Catholic Church in Ireland with something of a problem. It believes of course that miracles can and do happen, but it treats the persistent stories about that statue with caution, doubting their authenticity.

It is, you sense, one of those stories that will never really go away. The sceptics will never be persuaded by the faithful, and in turn the scepticism leaves the faithful wholly unmoved.

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