THE MOVING STATUES AND THE MIRACLE OF THE CHIP VAN

If there’s one thing miracles are good for, it’s business. 

Without miracles, the likes of Knock, Fatima, Lourdes and so on would be run down small towns at best. Perhaps they would have disappeared altogether, as many similiar sized but miracle-less places have over the centuries.

Instead, they are popular destinations to which millions flock, where billions of euros of business is done, and where many thousands are employed by the hospitality & souvenir industries.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not here to mock or doubt anyone’s faith. Article 44 of the Irish Constitution guarantees you the right to believe what you want, & I’m good with that. 

If you’ve experienced or witnessed a miracle cure, or if the Archangel Gabriel visits you for a chat & a nibble during the wee small hours of the morning, I’m happy for you & i don’t doubt you one bit! All I’m saying is a miracle or two never did any harm to the local economy.

As a poet & a storyteller & therefore a worker for IMAGINATION, I’m obliged to believe in all the gods & all the miracles from all the religions all over the world – past, present, & future. 

All the gods and the goddesses and the angels and the djinns and the demons and what have you – they ALL depend for our knowledge of them on the ONE GREAT GOD of the IMAGINATION. 

It’s IMAGINATION GOD that makes our interactions with all the other gods possible.

Take note please that I’m not saying that Gods don’t have a seperate existence outside of & independent from the human imagination. How the hell would I know if they do or not? 

What I AM saying is that we poor humans – lowly beings in all the religions – can only have access to or contact with gods or GOD or any other religious phenomenon through the medium of our imagination. 

If you find that objectionable, try having any religious thought whatsoever without using your imagination, & see how far you get.

Anyway, one drizzly evening in late september of 1985, a relative of mine took me to see the moving statue of Ballinspittle. The statue of Mary in the grotto there had been shaking & wobbling for a few months already. By now 30 or so other Marian statues in grottos around Ireland had joined in the miraculous dancing. It was getting to be a right old Virgin Mary-Rave all over rural Ireland. 

But Ballinspittle was still the main stage, the original and the best. 

My relative’s religious observances were perhaps a little unusual. He didn’t attend mass apart from funeral masses, and generally showed no sign of any interest in prayer. He never mentioned The Father, The Son, & The Holy Ghost. But he was a great believer in the Virgin Mary. 

He had her in his car to prevent breakdowns and crashes. He had her on the wall in his living room to keep bad cess & burglars out of the house. He had her on a medal that hung around his neck that he never took off, to keep himself always in the presence of the miraculous, no matter what else he was at. 

My relative was a bit of what the song calls a ‘wild rover’ to be honest with you, & I hate to think of what unholy & debauched scenes the Holy Virgin Miraculous Medal might have witnessed sometimes in the wee small hours of the morning in London, & Mykonos and other far-flung protestant pagan atheist sodomite places like that.

Anyway when the Queen of Heaven started swinging back home in West Cork, what choice had my relative but come back from his prodigal wonderings and pay due obeisance at home to the monarch of his soul?

He counted himself a catholic and, as such, felt very much among his own and in the right place at the right time in the awed and rosary-murmuring crowd around the sylvan grotto in Ballinspittle. There he was mumbling the rosary and straining his eyesight through the drizzle and strong floodlighting, trying to catch a glimpse of the miracle, along with all the rest of ‘em.

I was about four foot tall and could see nothing but backsides, which all wobbled & shook a little, as they do, but nothing miraculous about that!

When I looked up at my relative at one stage tho, i saw HIM seeing the miracle! I honestly have no idea if or what he saw going on up at the grotto, but going by the expression on his face it was something on a par with an alien landing – all i could think of was the look on all the actors’ faces in Close Encounters of The Third Kind when the gigantic UFO approaches from the sky.

He was awestruck, his face upturned and shining in the floodlights & drizzle, a smile of amazement, an ecstatic stare – the stare of revelation! He was watching the Virgin rock & roll! 

On his mother’s life he saw it move and move plenty!- & he would always say so afterward. Right up till the day he died and went somewhere only he knows for sure.

And who am I to doubt him or any of the other good people who say they saw statues move, back in the summer of 85? 

Sure didn’t I have a neighbour who saw a herd of elephants stampede out of his bedroom walls one night? And one night I myself was down on Inchadoney and the full moon shining and when I looked up didn’t the moon have the face of a beautiful and powerful goddess?

Come to think of it, if you’re from the West of Ireland, and you don’t have visions, you mustn’t be right in the head atall!

I will say that my relative had taken a few drops of Paddy’s before we got in the car to drive from Clon to Ballinspittle. Don’t worry tho – he wasn’t breaking the law. Back then the polite advice from the Guards was never to drink more than ten or twelve pints before you went for spin. You could fall asleep & blackout at the wheel, & still be driving legally!

Going by the odours wafting by at my height – four feet – I have a feeling there was a good few in the crowd who’d had a drink before they got to the grotto. 

But there were plenty of pioneers & teetotallers too & you certainly can’t blame the whole thing on drink. Desperation maybe – do all miracles not arise at a time of desperation? – but not drink.

When we were leaving, I witnessed what I have since come to regard as the real miracle of Ballinspittle:

Namely, a queue a half-a-mile long for a chip van! 

And the chip van man and a couple of young wans sweating like prizefighters trying to keep up with the endless orders. 

The till in that chip van was going Ka-Ching Ka-Ching Ka-Ching for hours that night and for every night of the six or nine months that the Holy Show was rolling in Ballinspittle. And I bet, 35 or so years later, that chip van man and all his descendants are still living off the miracle.

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