JEROME REILLY IN EDENDERRY THEY come from all over the country to touch the hat of Fr John McWey.
Around Edenderry they fervently believe the sick and ailing and even those merely down at heart can get comfort and solace from a simple invocation to Fr Jack.
When Fr McWey was a much-loved curate in the Co Offaly town, and later parish priest of Kilcock, many were convinced he "had the cure".
There are dozens of stories of hospital visits made by him to pray over seriously-ill parishioners who then miraculously returned to full health.
When he died in 1999 and was laid to rest beside the parish church in Kilcock, people from Edenderry plucked a stone from his graveside as a relic - even though he had left Offaly more than two decades before in 1976.
And in the six years since he died a more curious devotion has emerged. Two local people who knew Fr McWey are "keepers" of two of his hats.
It's similar to the belief in the healing powers many people ascribe to the fingerless gloves once worn by the stigmatised religious and recently canonised Padre Pio.
A hat Fr McWey wore at his ordination in the late Forties, but now in the possession of former Offaly footballer, Sean "Hooper" Farrell, has been sent all over the country to people who are seriously or terminally ill.
Other people who are well enough to travel go to visit Marie McKeon who carefully looks after another of Fr McWey's hats in Edenderry.
"When they come I leave them alone in the room with the hat and they say a prayer or ask for Fr McWey to intercede on their behalf," Marie McKeon says.
Her late husband Sean was a firm friend of Fr McWey and after the priest's death she was given his old black suede hat.
Word soon spread and during the first few years after his death people from all over the country asked for the hat.
"Fr McWey was a very spiritual man and people of a certain generation still have great faith in him. People say that when he talked to them they were left with a feeling of calm and well-being," she said.
Edenderry native Sean "Hooper" Farrell is convinced the intercession of his priest and friend helped two of his grandchildren who were both struck down with life-threatening childhood illnesses.
"In 1981 my grandson was just three when he became ill with cancer and was in Crumlin Hospital. Fr Jack was PP in Kilcock at the time and I asked him to come to the hospital with me. When we got there he asked us all to leave the room and then he said prayers over him for about half an hour. The young fella made a wonderful recovery and is now a young man living and working in New York."
More recently another grandchild was struck down with a similar illness and Sean Farrell is convinced that prayers to Fr McWey have sparked a recovery. "The young lad is playing football now. Not a bother on him."
Local councillor Ger Killally has initiated moves to name a new road after Fr McWey in the ?130m retail development which will transform Edenderry.
"It will form part of the Downshire development and will be called Fr McWey Street. Fr McWey left Edenderry in 1976 but you would be amazed at how many people remember him and still have a devotion to him," Ger Killally says.
Local businessman Liam Hogan said: "Fr McWey was a very holy man and people believed he had the cure, special powers from God. If the bad word was out about someone, the first person they would contact was Fr McWey."
"Mostly though, the thing that people remember was the peace that you could get out of just talking to him. That's why people had a faith in him. When you spoke to him you got a feeling of well-being and reassurance. They got peace out of him whatever was wrong with them," Cllr Hogan said. A marble seat was erected to the memory of Graiguecullen-born priest at the Canal Harbour in Edenderry after he died.
Fr McWey was a former Laois footballer in his younger day and was once president of the Offaly Co Board.
"He loved Gaelic games and was a strong member of the Pioneer and Total Abstinence Association. He was a gentle and spiritual man. He really was touched by God," said Marie McKeon.