Patron Saint of Eegits

In Dublin today Atheist Ireland held its inaugural AGM. I only found out about it this morning, had other things planned so, regrettably, was unable to attend. I am not a member but the public was invited anyway. There are meetings of humanist associations all the time and although a member of the Rationalist Association it would never occur to me to turn up at one of its meetings. However, in Ireland events this week have led me to believe that bodies like Atheist Ireland which are campaigning groups need solidarity from others of like mind or from those that simply value the freedoms that religion would almost certainly encroach on if not held in check.

Two events caught my attention in this regard. The first, more serious and threatening, was the imposition of a Blasphemy law. The other was downright ridiculous and while it might make Limerick the fool city of Europe, it certainly gives the rest of us a laugh. As the Times journalist David Sharrock put it, ‘it has been 14 years since her last major apparition in Ireland but the Virgin Mary is back and this time in the lowly form of a tree stump in Limerick.’

As the old saw goes, Limerick must be putting in a strong challenge to top the fool’s league of cities that hold to a belief that a man could live with his mother until he was 33 all the time believing she was a virgin, and she convinced he was god. Nothing more than the stump of a tree and yet the fools are flocking to it in their hordes thinking that Joe the Carpenter’s missus has suddenly decided to bestow her heavenly charms on the city’s population. From stable to stump the virgin is certainly not afraid to get her hands dirty in her recruitment drive to increase the ranks of the faithful. Does that expose me to prosecution under the new blasphemy law?

In most other circumstances a more rational explanation would be that the Keane/Collopy gang or their rivals in the McCarthy/Dundon outfit have sold a bad batch of whatever the drug of the day happens to be. This has led to hallucinations and delusions causing the afflicted to flock to trees where they light candles or mumble rosaries. At the last count 2000 of them had signed a petition demanding the preservation of the stump.

Not quite the type of phenomenon that the laughable moving statues of Ballinspittle proved to be in their day but enough to make secularists who pride themselves on being Irish a little self conscious. When abroad they might just feel that their hosts think they hail from the land of goblins, gnomes, Halloween witches and spiritual tree stumps. The undoing of the Ballinspittle moving statue gang was that they didn’t move fast enough. Some other gang of religious miscreants travelled from Dublin, caught the statue gang taking a breather and attacked them with sledge hammers on the grounds that they were idolatrous and blasphemous.

As for the blessed stump, even the local cleric, Willie Russell was sceptical. ‘There’s nothing there, it’s just a tree. You can’t worship a tree. A tree is a tree.’ At least a tree is something that can be seen. Willie’s type would have us worshipping the great invisible one. As sceptical as Willie but totally blind to any sense of irony was the view of his more senior colleague, priest Paul Finnerty, whose objections were based on a ‘wish to avoid anything which might lead to superstition.’ His superstitions alone shall prevail and shall have no false superstitions before them.

Commentators have not been slow to point out that these types of apparition coincide with recessions. Perhaps they do. Economic recession, religious revival, the old seesaw of fiscal failure and fantasy. No relief but religion aplenty. ‘Worshipping a tree stump’ – it’s as good as it gets.


  1. There is a certain amount of laughter that comes from these sightings.
    It is strange why the supernatural choose odd places to appear.
    Would claiming to see supernatural things not be a blasphemy?
    Is it acceptable as it is the Virgin Mary...sounds strange but better taken for what it is "funny" and little else.

    I only say that as no one can claim in honesty what the Virgin Mother looks like, as we have the Renaissance painters to thank for
    there romantic western look to people of middle eastern origin.
    This would be the image the church wanted and although the paintings are beautiful, they are not true likenesses of the Holy family.

    So seeing is not believing only accepting a false image, I think a commandment speaks against false images.

  2. LOL I remember queueing up to see the face of jesus in the tiles of a womans fireplace in Dunville street, but couldn't see anything. But at least with a tree stump you can hug it.

    Thought you may have elaborated a bit on your opinions of the blasphemy law though.

  3. "St Kevin's Stump"'s venerated on Craggy Island by "Fr Ted" and flock, so why not BVM for Rathkeale? She has fewer novenas to intercede for in secular Ireland, and may have time on Her hands. Or it may be to balance the sectarian coverage for the Twelfth.

  4. Vision misidentified, it's clearly Iris Robinson.