August 6th, 1985

FROM THE ARCHIVES: The summer of 1985 was notable for the “moving statues" phenomenon which began, as Dick Hogan reported, in…

FROM THE ARCHIVES:The summer of 1985 was notable for the "moving statues" phenomenon which began, as Dick Hogan reported, in Ballinspittle, Co Cork. – JOE JOYCE

LESS THAN two weeks ago Ballinspittle was a quiet Co Cork village of about 200 souls tucked away between the seaside town of Kinsale and Garretstown. Then, on a Tuesday, two ladies out for a stroll on the outskirts of the village stopped near the grotto built in honour of the Virgin Mary. They both saw the statue moving.

Forty villagers agreed to investigate their story on the following evening and each said they had also seen the statue move. Soon almost the entire village of Ballinspittle had experienced the moving statue.

Word spread like wildfire. On the Tuesday after the women reported seeing the statue move, there were about 1,000 visitors to Ballinspittle. By the end of the first week, CIE were laying on special services, up to 80 voluntary stewards were on duty at the grotto, Cork County Council was helping with the erection of temporary toilets and crowd numbers had jumped to an average of 10,000 each night.


Ballinspittle’s claim to a moving statue was matched in no time at all by reports of similar occurrences in Dunmanway and Courtmacsherry. But too many people, including senior gardai, well-tried sceptics and some who registered what appeared to be genuine shock said they saw the statue move, so Ballinspittle has remained the premier place of pilgrimage.

Various suggestions were made as to why a statue should begin to move. The idea was put forward that perhaps the poor tourist season was not unconnected with the events or that a mass hypnotic effect had been induced among people who wanted to, or were ready to, see a statue move from the outset. The movement occurred mostly after 10pm. Was there drink involved?

Such notions have provided endless mirth for many who scoff at the whole business, but even as the moving statue jokes gain currency, a social phenomenon is revealing itself. The old women and old men who flock to Ballinspittle are not the only ones drawn. Many thousands of young people could be seen there throughout last week, keeping vigil until the early hours.

One villager said things were not too bad until RTE picked up the story. After that, everybody wanted to come to Ballinspittle. Some of those who did go for the fun of it, described feeling a new sensation afterwards. There was definitely “something”.

But what was it? The eye-witness accounts from hundreds of people who could safely be described as sane included some who said they had seen movement of the upper part of the statue and then checked with their friends asking them what they had seen. The accounts matched. Others gave detailed and precisely similar descriptions of when and how the statue moved. Others stood for hours and saw nothing while all around people dropped to their knees or uttered spontaneous prayers as the statue came alive for them.