Dan, 62, has been going three days a week to the dialysis unit at the Mid-Western Regional Hospital for nearly two years and has been unable to travel. “Dan has been unable to travel to Lourdes, Knock or Medjugorje. This is a miracle for him as he can now pray to Our Lady here in Rathkeale where we live. I can see the image of our Blessed Lady on the tree and have been coming every day to pray for Dan.”
Several thousand people have visited the tree stump in the grounds of St Mary’s Parish church since it was uncovered on Monday.
Noel White had been overseeing a clean-up of overgrown trees in the church grounds on Monday when a FÁS worker, Anthony Reddan, claimed to have seen an image of Our Lady when he cut away a willow which had been there for about 70 years.
Mr White, who is head of the local community council said another worker went down on his knees once he saw the image.
Now he is concerned that the image be properly so protected.
“Some people praying at the tree have been picking away pieces of the bark. So we may have to put a glass casing over it,” he said.
Mr White said there needs to be dialogue between the community and local clergy on what should be done and they will await the return of parish priest, Canon Joe Dempsey from holidays.
Seamus Hogan, who runs a shop in the town, said there already has been a business spin-off.
“Derek Downes who runs Eurospar told me yesterday was the busiest Wednesday he’s had in 12 months,” he said.
Sean Brennan, 68, who travelled up from Lixnaw in Kerry wasn’t as convinced as many others.
“I didn’t see anything in God’s earthly world in it, just knots in a tree. If you study something long enough you will be bound to see something. Your mind will play tricks,” he said.
Mary O’Flaherty, a widow from Newcastle West “definitely” has faith in the image and has been offering prayers over recent days for two young relatives who have serious illnesses.
Mrs O’Flaherty said: “I have great faith in Our Lady of Lourdes. And Lourdes had to start the same way with people doubting it. I would have more belief in this Rathkeale (image) than Knock.”
All day long people were arriving from counties stretching from Cork to Sligo.
Some were brought in on wheelchairs. Young mothers brought babies with rare illnesses.
Last night hundreds held two rosary vigils.
Frank Markham, who hasn’t missed Mass in 70 years at the local church, said the image had strengthened his faith and had progressed it.
The retired milk delivery man said: “It’s bringing all age groups into the church and getting people here together to pray and that has to be good. It is bringing people back to the church and prayer.”
James Richardson, who is in respite care at St Ita’s Hospital for the elderly in Newcastle West, was on his way back from the Mid-Western Regional Hospital, after undergoing tests.
He stood in prayer with Nurse Concepta Heffernan who accompanied him.
Before she left the church grounds, Margaret Sheridan placed the palms of her hands on the willow, blessed herself and walked quietly away.