Story by Patrick O’Shea is continued in this week’s Tipperary Star - Young James Welsh, a seventeen-year-old farm labourer from the townland of Curraheen at the foot of the mountains, was a visitor to Mr Dwan’s house that day. When the funeral of the District Inspector had passed, Welsh announced to Mr Dwan that the time had come to give his message to the world.
Welsh was no ordinary youth. He was frail and gentle and much given to talking about spiritual things; it was said that he had at one time been a student for the priesthood but his health had interfered with his studies. In 1920 he was employed as a farm labourer by Mr Dwan’s sister. Dwan had befriended him, had listened to his earnest words about the sins of the world and when the young man came into the town had given him the hospitality of his home. In recent weeks Welsh had confided in him about the apparitions which he had had. The Blessed Virgin had appeared to him and told him of her displeasure at the sinful happenings in Ireland; she had asked him to let the people know of her disapproval. At her request he had scraped a small hole in the earthen floor of his cottage at the foot of the mountain that is known as the Devil’s Bit; the hole had filled with water and become a clear, running spring well. After each vision a statue in his house had started to bleed. He had entrusted the care of the bleeding statues to Mr Dwan.
After the night of terror in Templemore the Blessed Virgin had come again to Welsh and had told him that through her intervention the fire-raising soldiers and Black and Tans had been brought under control and most of the town saved from destruction. She had announced that the time was come to make known her communications with him.
Welsh and Dwan put a small table, covered with a white cloth, in the yard behind the stationery shop. On it they placed three statues of the Blessed Virgin on each of which a dark stain of shining blood ran from the face down over the blue and white mantle of the Virgin.
Late that afternoon my father, hearing of crowds gathering in the town, went out to see what was the cause of the excitement. In the main street he saw, coming towards him, a great crowd of people and out in front of them a wild-eyed, hysterical man, dancing and leaping in the air, laughing and crying out his thanks to God, calling on all present to witness the miracle of the banishment of his disability. My Father had seen this man dragging himgelf about the streets on crutches, he was known to everyone in the town; as long as most of them could remember he had been a cripple, a man apparently destined to go through life dragging his twisted legs between wooden crutches. But there he was before a laughing, weeping, praying, hysterical crowd, his body made normal, leaping about, as my father said, ‘like a circus tumbler’. He had been out to Welsh’s house, had partaken of water from the well in the earthen floor of the kitchen and, going outside, had thrown his crutches from him. Templemore was seeing its first miracle.
Next morning the newspapers told the story of the bleeding statues, the holy well and the straightened cripple. All over the country the story brought wonder and hope to homes where there was illness or infirmity. From neighbouring towns people set out for Templemore, relatives bringing the disabled, the deformed and the sick; sad, praying people coming hopefully to seek relief at the new shrine of the Virgin Mary. With each day the converging crowds got bigger, the journeys longer. Returning pilgrims brought home news of new cures. In every corner of Ireland charitable people were making arrangements so that afflicted neighbours could make the journey to Templemore.
At the centre of this bewildering migration the business of shooting and pillaging was forgotten; the pursued and their pursuers, it seemed, paused briefly to look on in wonder. There was no point in trying to enforce the regulation which prohibited motorists from travelling more than twenty miles without a permit; that restriction had been imposed so as to hamper the movements of the IRA, but was now ignored by the hurrying pilgrims and by the police. During every hour of the day and night pilgrims were arriving, visiting the statues in Mr Dwan’s yard, going out to Welsh’s home-and waiting for hour after hour in the great crowd, hoping to get close enough to touch the water of the holy well. There came stretcher cases, babies in arms, invalids in wheel chairs, the mentally ill, the blind led along by loving friends, the deformed supported on the strong arms of brothers and sisters. And outside the little cottage the pile of discarded crutches got bigger. The town was full of dust-covered vehicles of every sort, the streets crowded with tired people, sustained by hope and unquestioning faith, whose conversation was about journeys and attempts to get close to the objects of devotion, and the latest miracles. Because of the sudden gathering of many thousands, food was almost unobtainable.
A policeman in Templemore barrack had bought a statue of the Blessed Virgin in Dwan’s shop. The black iron-bound box supplied to him for the safe-keeping of his belongings was opened and his statue taken out. It was red-stained. Word went around that a Black and Tan had a bleeding statue and the crowds came and stood silently in the street in front of the police barrack, a drab building made even more ugly by its defensive armour. The silent watchers must have been conscious of being scrutinised by the bemused occupants behind the dark peep-holes in the fortifications. A more unlikely place of pilgrimage could hardly be imagined.
The older priests were non-committal; they urged their flock to suspend judgement on what was happening but some of the younger clergy accepted the phenomena as Divine manifestations and went out to help and pray with the pilgrims. The townspeople were full of fear and astonishment. All over Ireland people read of each day’s events with growing belief that something special had happened in Templemore. Nor was the significance of these happenings confined to those who said their prayers regularly. Black and Tans began to think of their immortal souls, British soldiers went to the Parochial House in Templemore and asked to be instructed in the Catholic faith. A young private told of having seen a ‘beautiful Lady” dressed in blue, who had appeared before him in the town square. It was thereupon decided to erect a statue of the Blessed Virgin at the spot where he had had his vision.