Parishoners in a west Limerick town are to meet their local priest this week in a bid to keep a tree stump they claim depicts the image of the Virgin Mary.
Parish priest Father Joe Dempsey returned from holidays to find that Rathkeale, Co Limerick, had become the centre of worldwide media attention after workmen removing trees from St Mary's Church grounds claimed to have revealed the religious figure in an 80-year-old tree stump.
Fr Dempsey has agreed with his colleague Fr Willie Russell, who said there was nothing in the four-foot tree stump.
Local businessman Seamus Hogan said visitors to the area were not worshipping the willow tree stump, but Our Lady.
"There are huge crowds still coming. We are not venerating the tree; we are venerating Our Lady, whose image we receive from it. It is the same as a marble statue inside the church," Mr Hogan said.
"We hope the church decides to leave it where it is and we will try to meet with Fr Dempsey over the next day or so."
More than 2,000 people in the Rathkeale area have signed a petition to prevent the removal of the stump.
"There is a rosary each night and looking around me now, I can see English registered cars and Northern Ireland registered cars also.
"We had Pakistanis and people from India here today. It is drawing huge crowds," Mr Hogan said.
Some enthusiastic visitors have even removed bits of wood from the tree stump.
"We want to get a glass or Perspex cover put over it as people are taking pieces off it.
"They believe they will get a cure from it or want to keep something as a memento from it," Mr Hogan added.
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