Shrine staff forced to clean up mess left by Knock pilgrims
A huge clean-up operation was launched in Knock yesterday to clear the Marian Shrine of the waste left by up to 15,000 pilgrims who flocked there at the weekend to see a predicted apparition of the Virgin Mary.
Self-declared visionary Joe Coleman, who claims Our Lady has appeared there on two recent occasions, is now planning to return to Knock on December 5.
Pat Lavelle, manager of the Mayo shrine, said he had to bring in industrial cleaners to clear the mess left behind on Saturday.
"The carpet around the altar was littered with food, soft drinks and crisps," said Mr Lavelle.
"The whole church was a mess and the seating area will have to be rearranged," he added. "The shrine staff have redoubled efforts to do this."
Last night he said he would be "reviewing" proposals to allow another gathering.
He pointed out that the holy shrine was set to celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8 -- and the shrine had to be in good condition.
"We are responsible for the people who come to Knock shrine," he said.
"There are serious health and safety concerns in relation to the prospect of anyone getting crushed or falling.
"Mr Coleman did not ask for permission to gather crowds here in the past but we have to review the situation in light of what happened."
A row erupted on Joe Duffy's RTE radio 'Liveline' programme yesterday between Mr Lavelle and Mr Coleman as to whether Our Lady has appeared there on two recent occasions.
Callers disagreed furiously as some claimed that Our Lady did appear, while others spoke of crowd hysteria, and pagan-style sun worshipping more akin to Halloween than to a place of pilgrimage.
Mr Coleman, who had forecast the apparitions, insisted that Our Lady had appeared on both occasions, and he criticised the Archbishop of Tuam, Michael Neary, and the parish priest of Knock, Monsignor Joseph Quinn, of discouraging pilgrims rather than making Our Lady welcome and showing respect to her.
Describing himself as a psychic and clairvoyant, Mr Coleman, from Ballyfermot in Dublin, compared himself to Padre Pio and St Joan of Arc, and accused the clergy of switching off the microphone system in the basilica and of stripping the altars and not allowing flowers.
But Mr Lavelle said: "Nothing happened on October 11 and no apparition took place on Saturday last. All he (Joe Coleman) can rely on is get people to look at the sun."
Mr Lavelle said that there was no service arranged for the basilica on Saturday and said that the doors were open for visitors as usual.
He also reminded Mr Coleman that it was the Knock security staff who rescued him on Saturday from being mobbed by taking him away in their van.