Removal of grotto mementos sparks unholy row
It's a holy shrine visited by thousands of pilgrims every year ever since local children claimed they witnessed an apparition nearly 25 years ago.
But now the peace and quiet of the sanctified grotto of Mount Melleray, near Cappoquin, Co Waterford, has been broken by an unholy row about mementos and relics left behind by holy pilgrims.
Thousands of personal items, including teddy bears, handwritten notes and children's drawings left near the grotto in an adjacent shelter are about to be disposed of after the local grotto committee ordered the "removal" of "all religious and other items".
The colourful collage of mementos and notes hint at the huge number of pilgrims to have visited this site over the past 25 years.
Scattered between the vast array of holy relics, saintly statues and religious medals are small, personal objects ranging from children's toys, teddies, old medication cartons, hairclips, old hats and caps, armbands and key rings.
Tipperary woman Phil Watters voiced her "disgust" over the committee's decision to remove people's personal belongings. However, she explained that her upset went unnoticed as she was told by a local committee member on a recent visit to grotto that the shelter was full of "old, tatty bits and pieces".
"This is something I feel very strongly about and being told that people's personal prayers and sentimental items are merely bits and pieces of old tack absolutely disgusts me. I was horrified by the answer I got when I asked a local man why that sign was up telling people to remove their things," Mrs Watters said.
Despite objections, a local grotto committee member explained that the decision was reached because it was felt the shelter was distracting attention away from the statue of the Blessed Virgin and St Bernadette.
Jimmy Buckley, committee secretary, explained that the purpose of removing the personal objects is simply to tidy- up the grotto and bring the focus back to the statues.
"The shelter at the grotto was never built so people could leave little things there, it was built as a shelter against the bad weather during the summer and Easter vigils we hold at the grotto.
"We just want it to look well-kept and tidy. Using it as a shelter for people to bring things means that it is losing its focus," said Mr Buckley.