Spiritual search turns into a stampede as impatient lose faith in double visionaries


Thousands flock to Knock as new Ireland trades in financial visionaries for spiritual gurus

THE DOUBLE Visionaries were in no doubt. Joe and Keith didn’t need to give an ETA – estimated time of apparition, because they could confidently announce a DHA – definite hour of arrival.

It was apparition by appointment on Saturday.

Our Lady relayed the time and co-ordinates to the two men when they spoke a few weeks ago: 3pm on October 31st, inside Knock Basilica. She would make an appearance and give a message to Joe Coleman and Keith Henderson, who say they are spiritual healers and “Visionaries of Our Blessed Mother”.

Despite Joe’s prediction that 50,000 people would turn up, the real figure was about 10,000. Most were Travellers. The young women moved in giggly groups, hundreds of them, wearing astonishingly skimpy outfits, impossibly high heels and lashings of spray-on tan. On a very strange day, in the most incongruous of surroundings, they stood out as the most compelling vision of all.

Joe and Keith arrived at midday driven by a supporter – a PR company owner from Dublin who said she was there in a personal capacity. Joe, who lives in Ballyfermot, says Our Lady has been appearing to him since he was a child.

When he saw and spoke to Our Lady in Knock on October 11th, she told him she is very angry with the Church. “They have insulted the Blessed Virgin Mary . . . She wants respect from the church.”

Joe is angry too. He claimed the Knock authorities refused to bring a statue of Mary into the Basilica (as she had requested) and that they had intended to lock the doors, but that the bishop bowed to pressure. Pat Lavelle, manager of the shrine, was at pains to point out that the basilica is open all year round. Joe, accompanied by “secondary visionary” Keith and two women holding large crucifixes, loudly vented their anger at Lavelle.

But Lavelle pointed out that the Basilica is always open. “It’s only because yis came under pressure. Why don’t you tell the truth. The lies that comes out of you. You should be ashamed of your life.”

Lavelle countered that, in the face of the indisputable facts, Joe was the “liar”.

“You should be ashamed of your life. Don’t you dare call me a liar. I am a visionary for our Blessed Mother. How dare you.”

“Are you a clairvoyant?” – the conversation continued. “I am what I am. What are you?” – “I’m the manager of the shrine.” “You’re a liar . . . I invited people to see our Blessed Lady – what I done last time . . . Do you not understand the truth? Why are you denying the people, the Christian people of Ireland from all over the world?” He was shaking with rage.

Keith was more relaxed. The 33-year-old became a visionary in April, after a visit “out of curiosity” to Medjugorje. “Our Blessed Mother appeared to me on Apparition Hill.” He’s seen her four times (including the imminent 3pm arrival). What happens? “I go into total awe with her and I see her pure essence.”

Anxious women approached them in the car park for details. Keith pointed to the Basilica. “In that church today, she’s appearing at three o’clock. You would want to get in early to get a seat.” People came up to touch them, whispering requests. “No, I’m not doing any healing today,” declared Keith.

Maura Martin, “a friend”, wafted ahead with a serene expression, holding a large crucifix and rosary beads. People approached her, one with a child in a wheelchair. She laid her hands on them and kissed them, although nobody seemed to know who she was. Not that it seemed to matter . . . I asked her why she was blessing people. She said the crucifix she was holding was over 100 years old. But does she have a special power? Why was she kissing people? She didn’t reply, just kissed me on the cheek, flashed that serene smile and glided on past.

“We need to be in the Basilica for 2. We normally pray for an hour before Our Lady comes,” said Joe. People approached reporters for information. “What time is Our Lady appearing?” We all said she was due at 3pm, like we were describing the next bus to Claremorris.

The church was packed. There wasn’t a priest in sight, even though there must have been a fair few lost sheep among the 7,000-strong congregation.

Joe and Keith were the centre of attention. A woman in a pink fun fur went on to the altar and started to sing a hymn. The church was noisy. Suddenly, she flicked her rosary beads aloft and let out an unmerciful shout.

“The tabernacle is here! Stop talking!” The tabernacle may have been there, but she mustn’t have known that the Blessed Host had been removed.

The prayers started. Joe and Keith were in position at a table near the altar. Forty minutes to go. Time passed slowly. Keith checked his watch every so often. He had a strange smile on his face, his eyes rolling. Both men prayed, hands pressed together.

Ten minutes. Joe checked his watch. Five minutes. The girls behind us were getting slightly hysterical. One of them was wearing a leopard print trilby. “What time is it? Are you sure Our Lady is coming here?” Four minutes. More watch checking. Our Lady must be very punctual. There were children screaming. People praying aloud. People eating crisps and sweets. Camera phones flashing. All eyes on the two men. They sipped water, an oasis of calm. Joe caressed the crucifix on the table. The rosary finished to applause.

Three. Two. One minute. “Oh, my God!” shrieked one of the girls. It was time. We held our breath. Where is she? Joe, smiling, held out his hands, palms facing outward. Keith still had that strange smile, only it was bigger, and his eyes seemed to have disappeared into the back of his head. Nothing for 15 minutes, just Joe nodding his head and mouthing an occasional “Yes”. He lifted up the crucifix. A few tears ran down his cheek.

People were drifting away. The rosary was in full swing again and the girls weren’t giving up. They prayed even louder. Joe opened a fresh bottle of water.

At 3.20, there was a kerfuffle at the upper end, opposite the choir stalls. A rush of relieved people galloped for the doors. “She’s outside. F*** ya! We shudda stayed outside!” squealed one of the girls, and they took off for the swelling stampede.

It was frightening. Chairs flew over in the rush. The place emptied, but the Double Visionaries stayed put, with a faithful few still around them.

They gazed rapturously ahead. Keith got to his feet and started to laugh. And then Joe spoke the only words we heard from him.

“Thank You, Mother” he said. A woman started to sob and another began to sing Ave Maria.

We headed for the action. On the way to the doors, two buggies in the aisle blocked the way. “Is this your baby?” demanded an angry-looking man. A newborn gurgled up from under a blanket. It wasn’t ours. “It’s disgraceful,” said his wife. “They’ve abandoned their babies and everything.”

The huge crowd was staring at the sun. It was a typical winter sun. Very bright. The comments were, to put it mildly, daft.

“I can see the sun! I can see it! . . . It’s coming out from behind a cloud! Look, look! It’s pink now. Oooh. That must be the rays.” Two couples in their 60s or so – the Traveller/settled ratio had evened up a bit outside – marvelled at the sky, soon to settle into a fabulous winter sunset.

“It’s a disc. Yes. A disc. It’s like . . . it’s like the Host.” A young woman watched, shuddering with excitement. “It is. It’s dancing!” It’s just the sun, we said to the lad next to us. “Do you not see the colours?” he pleaded. “Sure people took pictures of it the last time, and they saw a lady in it.” I looked up, for sure, but not for too long, because it hurt. Half blind, I headed indoors and tripped over a child in the gloom.

Jason and Crystal Delaney from Salthill in Galway didn’t go outside. They had seen an apparition of Our Lady on the wall above the choir stalls.

“A minute ago it was beaming, changing from Our Lady to Our Lord,” insisted Jason. And if you looked hard enough, you could indeed discern a face in the play of light and shadows. When I squinted a certain way, I thought I could make out Bruce Forsyth.

Let’s not forget the thunder. There was none in Knock on Saturday, but Jason heard it. People said afterwards that it sparked the stampede. (Not the woman who hurried out carrying a crucifix or the teenage boys who ran out, making a lot of noise and knocking over chairs.)

Brenda Wilson, the woman in the pink fur jacket who led the rosary “to keep the spiritual atmosphere going”, felt the Earth move. “I did hear an amazing rumble, though. I felt it here,” she said, thumping her chest. “I felt it in my soul, like a mini-earthquake.” She flew in from London, and said it was marvellous to witness such a display of devotion on October 31st, All Souls’ Day. “I work with exorcist priests, and I know about devil worship.”

Amid the hubbub, the Double Visionaries were spirited out and whisked away in a van. Joe said he had received a message from Our Lady, but she didn’t want him to reveal it yet. Maybe later. He seemed a little deflated.

In Claremorris, in the comfort of the McWilliam Hotel, the receptionist told us a guest came in and said she heard that a little boy had been cured of blindness.

Then everyone went to the Halloween dance.

It’s all change in Ireland. A few years ago, the country was busy lauding and worshipping “visionaries” like Seán FitzPatrick of Anglo Irish Bank.

Now we have Joe and Keith.