Reconstructed account of the events
Zimdars-Swartz Sandra L. Popular Devotion to the Virgin. The Marian Phenomena at Melleray, Republic of Ireland / Dévotion populaire à la Vierge. Le phénomène marial de Melleray en République d'Irlande. In: Archives des sciences sociales des religions. N. 67/1, 1989. pp. 125-144.
Account of the events
The events at the grotto of Our Lady of Boola* begin at about 8:00 PM on Friday, August 16, when Ursula O'Rourke went there to pray with her mother, her brothers John (24 years old) and Donan (3 years old), and her sister Mary (12 years old). Ursula said that she sat close to the railing while the other family members sat towards the back. Her mother gave out the Rosary and the others made the responses. When the Rosary was finished the rest of the family went to the car, but Ursula stayed behind for few minutes to pray. She had been watching Donan, at the prompting of John, “say goodbye to Our Lady of Lourdes”. When she turned her attention back to the statue, she said, she saw it moving. The head of the Virgin was moving in four directions, looking up to heaven, then down to the grotto, then to the left and to the right; her cloak was blowing in the wind. For Ursula, the statue had «come alive»: she could no longer see the pedestal. She looked at the statue of St. Bernadette, she said, reasoning that if she were imagining things this statue would be moving also. St. Bernadette was, however, stationary. At that point Ursula reports that she became frightened and felt her blood rushing through her body. She blessed herself, saying, “You are the Queen of Heaven. Why me? Bless my family”. Then she ran out of the grotto to her family in the car and, crying, related her experience.
Ursula's family decided to walk back into the grotto with her. Her brother John and sister Mary said they could see the statue move also. John said, “Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us”. Donan was crying and Ursula surmises that he saw something also. Her mother saw nothing. They left the grotto around 8:30, resolving not to tell anyone. Ursula returned to the grotto on Saturday, but it was raining and she saw nothing. She returned again on Sunday afternoon at about 4:00 PM and neighbors began telling her about the experiences that few others had on Saturday. Breeda Coleman and her daughter Sandra, for example, had seen the statue change color, while others saw the Virgin with her hands down at her side. Those reports gave Ursula the confidence that her own experience was not merely an illusion. Ursula's experience on August 16 has not been repeated. Nonetheless she remains a central figure at the grotto since she is specifically mentioned in several of the messages given to Tom Cliffe and Barry Buckley.
That same Sunday evening (August 18) Michael O'Donnell, a local farmer from Salterbridge, Cappoquin, came to the grotto with his two children. He said that his experience began with vision of the statue moving, the eyes looking out to the road and down at the grotto; the face of the statue was transformed into the face of Jesus and Padre Pio. Then, he said the background [shrubbery] got really small and he no longer saw statue but real «lady», who began to walk toward him down clay steps with masses of roses on either side. As the lady came toward him, Mr. O'Donnell began to walk backwards. He heard a voice say, “Reserve Sunday for prayer”. He collapsed and neighbors helped him up. He looked up and saw the lady still coming toward him and collapsed again. Although his experience has not been repeated in its entirety, he has continued to see the face of the statue transformed as on Sunday night.
The «locals» present at the grotto on Sunday night decided to organize for themselves Rosary which they scheduled for Tuesday night. Their plans were to be preempted by the interest generated by the reported experiences emerging from the grotto. On Monday night ninety-seven cars were counted along the narrow road leading past the grotto. By Tuesday night, according to Mrs. Mary Murphy, a member of the Melleray Grotto Committee, thousands of people were present. That night the Grotto Committee was organized. Gardai came to direct traffic, and civil defense and Red Cross personnel came to deal with crowd problems such as fainting or injuries. Crowds were present at the grotto from late afternoon until late evening through the next Sunday, August 25, after which the visits of the devout and the curious to the grotto are reported to have been more evenly distributed throughout the day.
Tom Cliffe's experiences at the grotto began early Sunday afternoon when he saw the face of Jesus on the statue. He left the grotto and went home, but then returned. At about 4:00 PM he went down to the railing to pray and heard voice. He couldn't tell whether the voice said, “I want you, too” or “ Iwant two”. He reported the experience to his mother. A woman in the crowd said to Mrs. Cliffe, “The Blessed Lady wants your child”. Mrs. Cliffe said that she and Tom cried and that Tom became distressed and didn't want to return to the grotto. On Monday afternoon Mrs. Cliffe took Tom and Barry, who was spending the day, with her on errands and suggested that they stop by the grotto. She surmised that Tom would be less afraid if his cousin were with him. The boys had two sets of experiences on Monday, one in the afternoon, and one in the evening. On the following days the experiences were in the evening, beginning at about 8:00 PM and lasting for approximately two hours.
The experiences reported by Tom and Barry took place in the presence of hundreds, and by Tuesday, thousands of people. Monday, when both boys began hearing the Virgin speak to them, they reported the experience to those around them, who passed the word through the crowd. By Wednesday night a loudspeaker system had been set up and the boys held a microphone and spoke directly into it so that their reports were heard directly by everyone including the crowd standing in the road. According to the boys, they saw and heard the same thing. With only a few exceptions, noted below, the cousins reported that the Virgin spoke to both of them. Barry's father, Jimmy Buckley, said that when one of the boys became distracted, for example, by question from the crowd or by mosquitos, the other boy would pick up and continue the message. Several of the sayings reported by the boys appear to be directed to the crowd and its behavior. The boys also said that the Virgin prayed the Rosary with the people, sometimes saying it in Irish. They described her as having long blonde hair, a tan complexion, and a sweet voice. Her clothing was like that of the statue, white cloak and gown with a blue sash. She wore brown sandals and walked down steps with roses on each side. The following day-by-day account of the sayings and visions reported by the boys is based on the record made by Mrs. Cliffe.
* The other name of Mount Melleray Grotto.
MONDAY, August 19, Afternoon
The command to «behave» initiates the sayings and apparently has reference to the confused behavior of the crowd present at the grotto at the time. The boys reported to those around them that the Virgin had started to cry when the behavior of the crowd didn't change. At that point, according to Mrs. Cliffe, the people near the boys realized that something was happening between the boys and the statue. The boys were told to ask the Blessed Virgin why she was crying.
“I want prayer.” This was apparently in response to the query about the cause of her crying. When the boys reported the saying, the people began the Rosary and, according to the boys, the Blessed Virgin prayed with them. The boys said that at the completion of the Rosary she said, “Thank you”.
The boys then reported two visions. They first saw Mary with six apostles standing on each side of her. Tom then reported having a vision of the twelve apostles and Jesus sitting around table in big room. Outside the house he saw a street full of beggars, people sweeping the street with brooms, and dogs barking. He saw Jesus with his finger raised as if to scold one of the apostles. Here Tom became frightened, feeling that he was the object of the scolding, and he began to cry. Barry reported that Mary appeared to him and said, “Tell Tom to stop crying”. Tom then looked up at Mary, who said “Be happy, be happy, Tom” (9).
This episode ended at about 7:00 PM when Mrs. Cliffe told the boys it was time to leave. They said that the Virgin appeared sad. Mrs. Cliffe told the boys to tell her that they would return. In response to this promise, according to the boys, the Virgin smiled.
MONDAY, August 19, Evening
“I have a message”. According to the boys, Mary made this announcement from the top of the grotto, that is from the higher part of the hillside where the statue of the Immaculate Conception is located. She then walked down steps with roses on either side to the edge of the water, which flows along the base of the hill, to deliver the next two messages.
“My message is peace and prayer”.
“Tell the people that the water is blessed”. According to the boys, Mary was so close that Tom reached out to touch her. She said, “No, Tom” (10). Mary then returned to the top of the grotto.
“God is angry with the world”.
“People will have to improve and pray”.
“My message is for all the people of God’s Church. We have ten years to improve and pray. If not, this is what will happen”. Here the boys reported having a vision of Noah's ark. They said that the shrubbery on the hillside disappeared, and the stream at the bottom became big river. They saw dam and big village of huts. Noah was building the ark with ten helpers. The other people of the village were jeering him and, according to the boys, taking seats and windows out of the church in the village and making carts and gates out of them. When Noah was finished, wind and rain came. The boys saw Noah bringing in the animals, and saw man riding alongside the giraffe with rope around its neck to lead it into the ark. They said the people of the village were trying to make the dam higher, but the wind and rain were too strong. The people then began climbing up the mountain. The boys described the ark as having three floors, the bottom floor for the small animals, the top floor for the big animals, and the middle floor for Noah and his wife, young man and his wife and two children, and an old man. They said that Noah closed the ramp and went to the back of the ark to look at the dam. The dam split in two and the water hit the ark and sent it flying into the air along with the people from the village. The ark landed in the water again. The boys said that people were trying to climb the mountains and were shouting and screaming, but the water covered the mountains and the people were drowned.
The boys were requested to ask the Virgin why there was suffering in Ethiopia. They said that the Virgin replied, “It's the cruelty of the world”.
Someone wondered whether statues were moving elsewhere or only in Ireland. The boys reported that the answer was “only in Ireland”.
They also said they saw Mary with the cross in front of her. She had her hands on the arms of the cross and a dark cloud hung over the vision (11).
TUESDAY, August 20
Virgin Mary said:
“The world must improve”.
“I want the people to accept the message from the children”.
“The people must pray more”.
“The people must go to Mass more and receive My Son more often”.
“I want the people to believe the children”.
“The world has ten years to improve. It must improve ten times more than it is”.
“I want people to stop saying bad things about me and not to be mocking me.”
Mr Buckley asked the boys to request Mary to intercede with Jesus to know if the weather would improve so that the harvest could be saved. According to the boys, she replied, “When the people will pray more, the weather will improve”.
A woman in the crowd passed a note to Tom which said, “What about Dermot?” According to the boys, Mary disappeared and Jesus appeared. He put out his finger at Tom, who experienced a pain in both ears. The boys said that Mary then reappeared and spoke with Jesus for a long time. Then Jesus left and the pain left Tom's ears. Mary said to Tom, “Sorry” (13).
Tom and Barry then reported vision of Mary with six apostles on either side. They were in a house and were sitting on the floor in a circle. One apostle was talking to the others. The boys said that outside the house they saw slaves with chains on their legs being whipped by soldiers. They described the soldiers as wearing golden helmets and red cloaks. One soldier was in front on white horse. The boys saw Jesus appear in the room with the apostles. All of the apostles but one nodded their heads. Jesus walked over to that apostle and showed him his hands and feet, and the apostle put his finger on the wounds.
WEDNESDAY, August 21
“I want hymns and prayers.” According to the boys, the Virgin asked several times for the hymn, «Peace is flowing like a river».
“I am pleased with Ireland” (14).
“Ireland will be saved”.
“Have Ireland convey my message to the world”.
“Ye will know the best way yourselves”.
“I am praying for the sick”.
“I bless the sick”.
Here the boys reported vision of the disciples and Jesus on boat. They said that Jesus was asleep and that there was a storm and it was raining. The disciples were frightened and they woke Jesus. According to the boys, Jesus stood up and said, “Be not afraid, am always with ye”. He put out his hand to order the rain to stop and the wind to go back. Then the boys said, the sun shone and the people were happy.
A vision reminiscent of nativity scenes followed. Tom said he saw three men leading tribes of about fifty people each. The leaders took a camel and followed a star. Barry then said he saw three men leading a camel and arriving at a stable. The boys described the stable as containing a woman, a man, a manger, a cow, a donkey, two lambs and shepherds.
“I will make a movement to the people.” After the boys announced this, many people in the crowd claimed they could see the statue move and apparently became frightened. This lasted for about forty minutes. During this period interaction between the boys and the Virgin apparently continued. Ursula reportedly asked whether the Blessed Virgin wished people to continue to come to the grotto. The reply was “yes, but in small numbers” (15).
“Be not afraid. I will not hurt ye. I will never hurt ye. I want Ireland to tell the world and ye have ways yourselves of telling the world.”
“My message is peace and prayer and no more fighting in the world. I want the world to believe me. I want the world to get my message”.
“I want Ursula to help ye to make the world believe. I am happy with the three of ye”.
“Ye must believe and the world must believe”.
“I want the people out in the road to come in and see me, as I will leave soon”.
Tom and Barry then had vision of Mary, her cloak ripped, holding the infant Jesus in her arms. Many of the people present claimed they could see this (16).
THURSDAY, August 22
According to the boys, Mary looked at the road and at the thousands of people there and said, “Sorry”.
“I want prayers and hymns”.
“I want Ursula to guard ye”. This was repeated five times during the course of the evening.
“The world must improve and the world must believe”.
“If the world does not improve the devil will take over God’s Church in ten years.”
Here the boys reported seeing a vision of the devil laughing at the Virgin. Both boys experienced pain, Tom in his ears, Barry in his throat. Mrs. Cliffe said that Tom was very frightened by this vision and didn't want to put the details in writing.
FRIDAY, August 23
“With our faith and our prayers we can overcome the devil.”
“I want you to pray harder and harder.” This was repeated several times.
“I want prayers and hymns”.
“I will show myself to more people in more places.”
SATURDAY, August 24
Friday marks the end of the apparitions to the two boys. However, an additional message was conveyed on Saturday. An older woman asked Tom, who was not accompanied by Barry, to ask the Virgin if She was the mother of Jesus (17). According to Tom, She replied: “I am.”
(9) The personal involvement of Tom in this vision which formed an important part of the recounting of the vision in October is not found in the fourth leaflet.
(10) Tom's action is not found in the fourth leaflet.
(11) This exchange and vision is reported by A.RYAN, "The Melleray Phenomena", Cork Examiner, December 25, 1985. p.1-4.
(12) This saying, which appears in recent printed accounts, was not among those reported in the parents account.
(13) This enigmatic episode is not found in the recent printed accounts.
(14) In the printed accounts: “God is pleased with Ireland”.
(15) In October, believers generally connected the Virgin's directions to come to the grotto in small numbers with the declining crowds over the weekend of the 24th and 25th. In the fourth leaflet, however, the saying is placed with the episode of revealed movement and the questioner is identified as Ursula. Other sayings connected with this episode as reported in the leaflet are “I hope most of the people saw me” and “I want the people to come in and see me because will leave soon”.
(16) This vision is conflated with the earlier episode of revealed movement in the fourth leaflet.
(17) In the fourth leaflet this woman is identified as local nun.