Ballinspittle (Moving Statue)
Ballinspittle is a village in county Cork, Ireland, and the site
of a reported paranormal moving statue of the Virgin Mary. In
the same year, 1985, many statues of the Virgin Mary throughout
Ireland were reported to be moving. The first reports
began in Asdee, county Kerry, on February 14, when several
children claimed to have seen a statue of the Madonna and
Child at the parish church of St. Mary open its eyes and move
its hands. Other people confirmed that they had seen movements.
In July two teenage girls reported seeing movement in a
statue of the Virgin Mary at Ballinspittle, in a grotto some 20
feet up the side of a hill. This was a Marian year shrine, and the
statue was illuminated by a halo of 11 electric lights.
Within days of the first reports, thousands of pilgrims visited
Ballinspittle every night, some traveling hundreds of miles. At
regular intervals prayers were spoken on a public address system
and the people joined in. Each night many people claimed
that they saw the statue move in some way. The most commonly
reported movements included changes of countenance, superimposition
of other sacred faces, opening and closing of eyes,
movements of the hands, and rocking to and fro.
Ballinspittle and its moving statue rapidly became a media
event, reported and discussed in newspapers and on radio and
television. Among the many thousands of visitors to the shrine
were journalists, camera operators, priests, nuns, doctors, lawyers,
engineers, housewives, and ordinary people from all walks
of life. Surprisingly, even hardened skeptics reported seeing
movement. On one occasion a gang of Hell’s Angels motorcyclists
stood quietly at the shrine, and although they did not believe
that the statue moved, they blessed themselves before putting
back their crash helmets and driving off.
Naturally enough the church hierarchy became somewhat
concerned. While appreciating the devout atmosphere created
by many pilgrims at an open-air shrine, ecclesiastics believed
that regular church attendance would be a more practical demonstration
of faith. The bishop of Killala stated, ‘‘We don’t
mind people gathering together to pray, but we want them to
go into the church to do it.’’ Moreover many people visited the
shrine out of mere curiosity or even skepticism; others criticized
what they regarded as mass hysteria. Bishop Michael
Murphy of Cork warned that ‘‘common sense would demand
that we approach the claims made concerning the grotto in
Ballinspittle with prudence and caution,’’ but he also relished
the fact that ‘‘crowds are gathering there in a great spirit of
prayer.’’
Nobody denied that the statue itself was a purely material
construction. It was a standard five-foot eight-inch Lourdes
model cast in concrete. The statue maker, Maurice O’Donnell,
recalled, ‘‘Her hands are reinforced with wire, and I remember
the day she left the works for Ballinspittle. I was making so
many at that time there was no time to dry them out before
painting, so lots of statues in the shrines around the country are
still unpainted. But that was in the Marian Year, 1954. The botBallard,
Guy Warren Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
148
tom has dropped out of the statues market since the Vatican
Council.’’
But in 1985, these statues were reported to be moving in
shrines all over the country. Not everyone took the moving statues
seriously. With characteristic irreverent wit, Irish comedian
Brendan Grace recorded a humorous song titled ‘‘Is That You
Moving’’ A new play was written by Brigid McLoughlin titled
‘‘Moving Statues.’’ McLoughlin stated that the play ‘‘sends up
the rituals and double-standards of Catholicism in Ireland.’’
Although many people claimed that the statue actually
moved physically, it seems clear that the majority of reported
movements were imaginary. Some may have been related to
what psychologists call ‘‘eidetic imagery,’’ in which prolonged
staring may combine with imaginary mental imagery to produce
an illusion. A team of psychologists from Cork University
College established that the phenomena did not register on
film or motion sensors. Other observers talked of optical illusions,
autosuggestion, or mass hallucination. But to many people,
the question of physical or visionary movement seemed irrelevant
in the highly spiritually charged atmosphere of the
grotto. For them, the real movement was one of the soul. On
July 31, a 37-year-old Cork housewife named Frances
O’Riordan, who had been completely deaf since age 20,
claimed that she had her hearing restored during a visit to the
Ballinspittle grotto.
With the sudden influx of thousands of visitors and journalists,
telephone kiosks were installed at the grotto, as were two
concrete toilets. Special bus services were organized, but there
was no commercial exploitation of the grotto. The crowds continued
to throng at the shrine for over three months, until on
Halloween, October 31, there was a sudden and brutal affront
to the respect and devotion of the pilgrims.
Three men drove up in a car. Two of them strode swiftly to
the shrine, jumped over the fence, and hacked away at the statue
with an axe and a hammer, completely destroying the face
and severely damaging the hands. The third man calmly took
photographs. The spectators were too stunned and horrified to
intervene. Someone said, ‘‘You must be from Satan to do such
a thing!’’ The men laughed and said, ‘‘Well, you’re worse to be
adoring false gods.’’ They then drove off in their car. Local
people linked the attack to a religious sect that had scattered
leaflets at the grotto, stating that people should adore the head
of Christ in their local churches. Three men were later arrested
and charged with malicious damage to the statue. Meanwhile
prayers were said at the grotto, and people claimed to have
seen the defaced statue continue to move.
The grotto committee arranged for the statue to be repaired,
and since its reinstatement at the grotto, pilgrims have
still assembled there.
Meanwhile the three men who had been arrested after the
Ballinspittle incident were identified as Robert Draper, Roy
Murphy, and Anthony Fowler, members of the Faith Center
Movement, a Pentecostal Christian church of American evangelist
Dr. Gene Scott of Los Angeles, California. The three men
were tried at Portlaoise Circuit Court on Tuesday, March 4,
1986, before a Judge O’Higgins and charged with ‘‘causing malicious
damage in a place of divine worship.’’ The judge stated
that he had to be ‘‘particularly zealous in guarding the rights
of the three defendants’’ and dismissed the case on the grounds
that the Ballinspittle grotto is not, in fact, a place of divine worship.
To the defendants, of course, it was a place of sinful idolatry.
Robert Draper, who wielded the axe and hammer at Ballinspittle,
emerged from the courtroom triumphantly proclaiming
that he was going to demolish other images in wayside
shrines. He is since reported to have smashed two more statues,
one in Ballyfermot and another in Clondalkin. He appeared
with his fellow iconoclasts on the popular ‘‘Late Late Show,’’
hosted by Gay Byrne on RTE Television on March 7. Draper
arrogantly cited the fourth and fifth commandments of the Old
Testament and Exod. 2324 as giving him divine sanction to
smash all religious statues in Ireland, regardless of the rights
and views of other people.
As reporter Eoghan Corry stated in an article in the Sunday
Press (March 9, 1986), ‘‘there isn’t a safe statue in the country.’’
Meanwhile from Los Angeles evangelist Scott indignantly
disassociated himself from the activities of the Irish statue
smashers and described the Robert Draper group as ‘‘the most
ridiculous association I have ever heard in a lifetime of confronting
ridiculous things.’’ In a press statement he specifically
said, ‘‘I abhor violence in any form. I am in the process of preserving
and restoring a 23 million dollar religious shrine in Los
Angeles at the present. I am also president of Sunset Mausoleum
in Berkeley, California, which has a 16-foot statue of Christ
commanding the cathedral chapel, which was made of the marble
from the same quarry from which Michelangelo made
Moses. I abhor the thought of anyone anywhere in this world
defacing any religious object and totally disassociate myself
from anyone who claims to perpetrate such activity in my
name.’’
For a fascinating account of the Ballinspittle story and the
other moving statues of Ireland, see the book Seeing is Believing
(1985).
Sources
Tóibín, Colm, ed. Seeing is Believing. Ireland Pilgrim Press,
1985.

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