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Dublin: 10 °C Thursday 17 April, 2014

How holy ‘apparitions’ pressed pause on War of Independence

Visitations of the Virgin Mary to a teenage boy and ‘bleeding’ statues in Templemore, Co Tipperary seized the country – even causing Michael Collins to get involved in the mysterious case.

A NEW DOCUMENTARY is hoping to throw light on one of the more curious – and perhaps less well-known – episodes of the Irish War of Independence.

The programme, Am an Ghátair: Deora Dé, is to be screened on TG4 on Wednesday night. It tells the story of Jimmy Walsh, a teenager in Templemore, Co Tipperary, who believed that he saw statues of the Virgin Mary weeping blood in the town in the summer of 1920.

The War of Independence was in full throes, the first shot having been fired in January of 1919 at the south Tipperary village of Soloheadbeg. Walsh’s story, however, drew the focus to its north Tipperary counterpart. Templemore was a dangerous place at that moment, the IRA having killed a Royal Irish Constabulary District Inspector named Wilson, and the RIC now carrying out reprisal attacks on local businesses and homes.

However, reports began to filter through to local and national newspapers of “supernatural manifestations” in the area with particular focus on young Jimmy Walsh who was not only receiving apparitions from the Virgin Mary but apparently had found a ‘holy well’ had appeared in his bedroom floor. A whole host of statues of the Virgin Mary in various places in the town were supposed to be crying tears of blood, including one, ironically enough, in the RIC barracks.

History Ireland cites contemporaneous reports of the ‘visitations’ and the belief locally that they had prevented Templemore from being entirely destroyed by British forces.

Pilgrims began to visit the town in the hope of seeing the visitations and statues and the attention had the effect of halting the battle between the Irish rebels and the British in Templemore, at least for a while. The RIC found itself confined to barracks as the crowds – up to 15,000 people arriving a day – grew in strength and the IRA stopped fighting.

These photographs, supplied by the film-makers Magamedia and the National Photographic Archive, give a taste of the massive crowds drawn to the town:

How holy ‘apparitions’ pressed pause on War of Independence
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  • Crowds file past the 'bleeding' statues in Templemore in 1920

  • Children praying to the statues

  • 'Visionary' teenager James Walsh

  • Pilgrims at Walsh's cottage

  • The house where Walsh lived in Curraheen

  • A postcard from Templemore at the time

  • A postcard from Templemore at the time

However, the Catholic Church soon became suspicious of Jimmy Walsh, who by this time had begun carrying out ‘cures’ on pilgrims and had been dubbed locally ‘The Saint’. A local IRA commander, Jimmy Leahy, also had his reservations and took Walsh in for questioning, later citing him as either “mentally abnormal” or a “hypocrite”.

Was Leahy right? Certainly he raised enough doubt for the IRA’s then director of intelligence Michael Collins to order Walsh to be brought to Dublin for further interrogation by Dan Breen, while Collins sat in a back room. Eventually, the IRA decided to restart their war in the Templemore area, killing two RIC men and causing pilgrims to flee for fear of reprisals.

As an interesting postscript to the story, Michael Collins later ordered that one of the ‘bleeding’ statues be brought to Dublin so he could inspect it himself for hidden mechanisms that might explain the alleged miracle. What did he find? We won’t ruin the surprise for you… Am an Ghátair: Deora Dé will be broadcast on TG4 at 9.30pm on Wednesday.

Magamedia have shared this trailer for the doc:


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