Pope Francis has canonized a much-loved Irish leprechaun after overcoming a legal challenge to a miracle he performed.
Fionn Mac Coilte was an 18thcentury leprechaun from Dungarvan, County Waterford, and is the first Irish person to be beatified since Oliver Plunkett in 1975. In anticipation of Mac Coilte’s sainthood, Dungarvan Council rechristened the town square “Saint Mac Coilte Place” in May 2016 but the Town Council was widely mocked as Mac Coilte’s sainting was stalled due to protracted legal proceedings.
Where a martyr only has to perform one miracle to become a saint, because Mac Coilte died a natural death, the Vatican requires proof of two miracles.
Miracle No. 1: disqualified by the Vatican
In 1787 at Labbacallee passage tomb in Glanworth, County Cork, Molly Travis entered the stone chamber and was crushed by a horizontal slab that served as a roof. Locally known as ‘Hags Bed’, passage tombs are shelters made of hunks of stone - or megaliths - and were typically used for pagan burials.
The capstone that felled Molly Travis was 26 feet (7.8m) long and weighed 10 tons. Fifty men couldn’t budge it. Enter our three-foot friend! He stood on top of the fallen stone, scratched his red beard, and dared the men to challenge him. None did. With one hand Mac Coilte raised the capstone over his head. With the stone tomb restored, Molly Travis stood up and not only was she alive but she was unharmed. However, she was later burned at the stake, it being said that she must be a witch to have survived.
The Vatican discarded this miracle – despite numerous people verifying it - as Hags Bed was excavated years later and the remains of a woman found. Folklore says that Labbacallee passage tomb belonged to the Celtic Hag, Cailleach Bheur. When queried about these events, a spokesman for Pope Francis said he wasn’t familiar with this miracle but boasted about having visited Newgrange.
Miracle No. 2: Vatican approved
In 1964 Colman Mulcahy suffered incurable Parkinson’s disease. The 47-year-old native of Moyross in Limerick gathered his family and they all prayed to Fionn Mac Coilte. A local priest, Father Delaney of Ballynanty, was also in attendance. Overnight, and defying all medical explanation, Colman Mulcahy was cured; only dying thirty years later. Father Delaney brought the case to the Vatican’s attention and it was verified as a miracle.
Miracle No.3: Vatican approved… after a legal challenge
In 1792, on the eve of St Patrick’s Day, Lord Cantwell of Roscommon set a leprechaun trap. It involved collecting all the gold rings from the townsfolk of Boyle and placing the jewelry in a gold bowel, which was suspended from the branch of a tree. Fionn Mac Coilte fell for the trap and was chased up the tree. He was told he would be released if he cured Lord Cantwell’s mother of gout. However Lord Cantwell went back on his promise and a crowd gathered, demanding that Mac Coilte be set free.
After four days, Mac Coilte escaped and with a twinkle in his eye, watched the house burn down. Its inhabitants were burnt alive.
The Bishop of Roscommon refused to open an investigation into the life of Fionn Mac Coilte, believing he was of ‘evil spirit’ and died a pagan in his cave. However, the Bishop of Waterford interceded, recommending Mac Coilte to the Vatican.
The Irish Bishops fell out and Mac Coilte’s case went to law, the Roscommon Bishop saying that the Bishop of Waterford had no authority to ask the Congregation for the Causes of Saints (the Vatican’s department for saints) to open an investigation. Under Canon Law, only the Bishop of the diocese where a person dies has the power to recommend someone for sainthood. However, at the time of death, nobody knew if Fionn Mac Coilte had left Dungarvan or arrived in Boyle and doubts remain to this day where he is buried.
The beatification ceremony of Fionn Mac Coilte will take place in the Vatican square on 23 August, 2019. It’s believed that more than a hundred thousand people will travel from Ireland to Rome. Pope Francis will give a special mass in honor of Fionn Mac Coilte and once the Pope chants a Latin prayer, the title of “Saint” will be officially bestowed on Fionn Mac Coilte and Dungarvan town can finally celebrate its new square.
Saint Fionn Mac Coilte will be the patron saint of small people and his Feast Day is 19 June.
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