“The Meadow of Miracles”
Kristina Cooper talks to Eddie Stones about this ancient place of
worship and the story of how the Holy Spirit has brought it alive
again over the last 20 years.
At a time of difficulty for the Church in Ireland, it seems that the Holy Spirit is raising up special places and people to help with the restoration of the Catholic faith. One of these is the ancient site of Clonfert, which has once again become a place of pilgrimage and renewal for people from all over the country. Clonfert, which means “Meadow of Miracles”, was founded in 580 AD by St Brendan. It was a famous place of learning, culture and mission for a thousand years. At one time three thousand monks studied there. But during the Reformation, it was razed to the ground and the site lay dormant and seemingly forgotten for 400 years.
Then in the early 1980s, Michael Cullen and his wife, Annette, well known in Charismatic Renewal circles for their work with Camp Jesus and evangelising young people, heard in prayer the Lord calling them to go to the centre of Ireland and to Clonfert. With the help of a monk from Cavan, they managed to find the ancient site and bought the land. Sr Briege McKenna prayed for them and received a prophetic picture of an old building with the walls covered with ivy and people coming from all over pulling off the ivy and rebuilding it.
They shared their vision with the local bishop, who gave his backing and agreed to let them as lay people have the Blessed Sacrament on the site, which was very unusual at the time. The following day Mass was celebrated there, under sheets of galvanised iron, for the first time in 400 years. As there was initially nothing there, the family lived in two portacabins, with half a portacabin for the Blessed Sacrament. It was very hard, as there was no running water or amenities. But they persevered.
“Divine Providence at work”
Almost immediately Divine Providence began to work, however, and people began appearing offering their support. This ranged from the offer of a wooden tabernacle to a £50,000 gift for a chapel.
Eddie Stones and his wife, Lucy, meanwhile had got to know the Cullens and had become close friends. Eddie even had helped out at one of the Camp Jesus’ at Clonfert. It was thus natural that they should both be present at the first Mass that was celebrated in the Clonfert oratory on 17th July 1987. They little realised that one day they would be there themselves.
Michael Cullen has had a somewhat chequered and flamboyant history. Married with 12 children, he had been a civil rights activist and anti-war protester during the late 60’s and 70s in the United States. It was while in prison for this, that he began to reflect on the direction of his life and read the bible. On the day of his release and on the eve of his deportation back to Ireland, and family, he was taken to a prayer meeting and prayed over by Sr Briege McKenna and Fr Kevin Scallon C.M.. He was baptised in the Holy Spirit and set on fire with the gospel. Ever the radical, when he returned to Ireland, he felt drawn to work for the disenchanted youth of Dublin.
“Our Lady appeared one day without warning”
Eddie Stones, on the other hand, had a much more traditional Catholic background. A very sociable and gregarious man, he had developed a good business as a butcher in a small town. He was married with three children and had a nice home. A regular Sunday Mass goer, but not particularly devout, his life had changed drastically, when one Saturday night as he and his wife were having tea, Our Lady suddenly appeared to them both without warning.
Eddie comments, “We were amazed. We both saw her at the same time, as it was an exterior vision, but she didn’t say anything.” They spent most of the rest of the night in prayer, and in the days that followed prayed fervently for God to show them his will. “We couldn’t believe that it could happen to people like us and wondered what it all meant?” Lucy never saw Our Lady, again, but Eddie found himself, as time went on, getting interior visions and locutions from Our Lord, Our Lady and the Holy Family. He felt himself more and more drawn to prayer, and when their local parish started undergoing a terrible trial, Eddie suggested to the parish priest that prayer was the answer to the situation. In reply the parish priest said “Maybe you’d start then”. And so Eddie did. As he had had no experience of any kind of prayer group before, he just did what seemed natural. This was the rosary, a few hymns, intercession and, at the suggestion of the parish priest, a bit of scripture. Because of the problems in the parish at the time, and because of Eddie’s large network of friends and contacts, 75 people turned up for the first meeting and this soon became 200 people.
“Discovering the word of knowledge”
It was at one of these meetings that Eddie discovered that he had a charism of healing. Eddie remembers, “I remember I just saw someone’s liver and a back. I didn’t know what it meant, so I just spoke it out. I didn’t even know it was a word of knowledge or that it was connected to healing, but afterwards, people began to come to me and ask me to pray for them.” Gradually he came into contact with people who had experience of Charismatic Renewal and the healing ministry and they explained to him what was happening.
He was also continuing to receive inner revelations from the Lord, which he discussed with his spiritual director, a local priest called Fr Kevin Ryle. In his visions Eddie began to hear the Lord calling him to give up all his possessions and his business and follow him. As he had no formal theological or pastoral formation he wondered what this could mean, and spent the next five years pondering the decision.
“Give up everything … follow me”
He comments, “I didn’t want to make any rash decisions, as I had a wife and children to support, but over the years I had so many confirmations of this that I had to take it seriously. People, some of whom I didn’t know at all, came and prophesied over me with exactly the same words that I had heard from the Lord, “to give up everything and follow him.” Gradually it became apparent from his inner sense and the discernment he received from others, that God was calling him and his family to join the Cullens at Clonfert.
The one thing holding them back was Eddie’s father. Eddie comments, “He had such a joy in my success and the shop, that I knew it would break his heart, if we gave it up. I felt the Lord telling us to be patient and we would know the right time to go.” Nine months later, Eddie’s father died and on 26th July 1990, the family set off for Clonfert.
Eddie remembers, “It wasn’t as easy as we thought it would be. Everyone thought we were a bit strange, upping and moving like we did. Nobody wanted to know us, even our families. We were the talk of the county. Some people thought we had joined a cult.”
“Had I made a terrible mistake?”
Things were doubly difficult as they were squeezed into two rooms of the Cullens’ home and Eddie had no formal work and no income. Also apart from the annual Jesus Camp that took place in the summer, and Mass in the oratory, there wasn’t much happening at Clonfert itself for him to be involved in. Eddie comments, “After six months of this, I felt that I had made the most terrible mistake and I that I had got it all wrong.” One day, however, when the two couples were praying Eddie felt he heard the Lord saying that He wanted him to build a house for his family across the yard, and that He would send £25,000 for the purpose. Eddie remembers, “I heard him say that Michael was to vacate the house he was living in too. I also saw the keys of the house left on the table, which I took to mean that Michael was to lay down the authority of the place too.
As it was the prophetic word was fulfilled, because shortly afterwards the money arrived, the Stones’ house was built and, in answer to their call from God, the Cullens returned to America. Eddie and Lucy were then given the guardianship of Emmanuel House at Clonfert by the Bishop John Kirby, the Bishop of Clonfert. Initially it was presumed that they would continue the youth work pioneered by Michael Cullen but Eddie explains, “I told the bishop that I couldn’t do that, as I had no gifts in that area. Michael was also a very dynamic preacher, which I wasn’t as the gifts the Lord had given me were more in prayer and healing. I also felt called to do more at Clonfert itself. I asked him if we could have a resident priest to help us on the site, so the sacraments could be available to those who came, and he agreed.”
“News of healing spread”
With the help of Fr Paddy Kelly, the priest sent by the bishop, they started Sunday Mass at 4pm. As well as Mass, confession was also available and prayer for healing. At the first Mass there were only six people present, but within a few weeks this had grown to 40 people. As news of the healings spread, more and more people started coming, until there were over 300 people squeezing into the oratory, which was only equipped for 40 people. It was becoming both uncomfortable and a bit dangerous and it was obvious that the situation couldn’t continue as it was. Then Eddie began to get interior pictures of the Lord renovating an old hall in the yard. This was just a shell of a building, with no real roof or floor. It was also desperately cold as there was no insulation or heating. Undeterred Eddie called Fr Kevin Ryle and the other members of the Clonfert Council to share his new vision.
They reminded him of his promise to the bishop not to increase the debt on the place, but he recalled that the bishop had also said they could spend any money they earned themselves. He remembers, “So I went to the Blessed Sacrament to pray and ask the Lord what to do.” In prayer he received a picture of four red buckets and pound coins pouring in. He interpreted this as organising a raffle, which he did, with the first prize being a trip to Medjugorje. In this way £1100 was raised to pay for the cladding for the insulation of the ceiling and walls.
“The Lord provides”
Eddie recalls, “As we couldn’t afford to pay anyone, I decided to do the work myself, aided by a local farmer.” They weren’t alone for long and by 12 noon on the first day seven other local craftsmen had joined them. Divine Providence ensured, moreover, that by the end of the week, everything they needed had been provided or donated in one way or another, from the sound system and the cement floor, to 200 chairs and 10 gallons of magnolia paint. “I was so excited by all this,” said Eddie. “Here we were still with no money and the Lord was at work providing in a truly miraculous way, and showing us indeed that this was what he wanted.”
After three years, so many people were coming that even this space became too small and Eddie felt the Lord telling him to double the size of the hall, so it could take more people. Again, the hall was built on Providence. Once again the Lord blessed the venture, and shortly after it was completed, Eddie received a cheque for £10,000, which enabled him to pay off all the existing debts of the property. In fact from having no money at all, Eddie was finding as he was praying with people, more and more of them were wanting to give him money. He comments, “I was getting embarrassed by this and I didn’t want it to interfere with my ministry, so I spoke to the bishop about it. It was decided that I would get a fixed salary, and all the donations I received would go to the Clonfert ministry.”
“Fruit of the prayers of the saints”
The ministry has continued to grow. These days not only do 1000 people regularly go to Clonfert for monthly healing and reconciliation days, but Eddie himself, preacher or not, travels round Ireland and to England and Scotland too, sharing the gospel message and praying for healing. Eddie believes that what is happening at Clonfert, is the fruit of the prayers of all the saints who lived and prayed at Clonfert all those centuries ago. “The place is like a giant oak tree still smouldering with fire, and we are like the little twigs that have been thrown on to it, to get the blaze going again.”
He also sees it as part of the new move of the Spirit renewing the Church in Ireland, with lay people and priests working together. “We have healing here,” he says, “and that’s often what brings people, but God uses that to bring them back to him, whether they get physically healed or not, and that is wonderful to see. After all what is the point of being healed of cancer if you end up dying in your sins? We want to encourage people who have fallen away from their faith to come back to the Lord and to once again, live godly lives. The healings are just a sign of God’s love and presence.” And a sign that after all these centuries Clonfert is, once again, the “Meadow of Miracles”.