The tree near Cardinal O'Fiaich's grave
'The Bleeding Tree': Miracle or myth?
A gust of wind rustles the leaves of the tree situated near the tomb of Cardinal Tomas O’Fiaich. Only cobwebs and bugs now cover the aging bark, with the exception of a few human-drawn carvings from visitors eager to mark their presence. But within the depths of this tree’s history lies a fable forgotten by the townspeople of Armagh.
After the burial of Cardinal O’Fiaich in May 1990, the tree trickled with a mysterious substance. As word spread and publicity of the event increased, numerous people flocked to see the rumored miracle. Some even believed the tree wept like a stigmata, and began to call it ‘The Bleeding Tree.’
“[The Cardinal’s death] was just an awful shock for everyone concerned,” recalls Agatha Jordan, Armagh resident and faculty member at St. Patrick’s Grammar School. “And when that happened, people did want to believe it. And to this day people do still really believe it was a sign from him.”
Miracle turned to myth
Although residents were intrigued by the possibility of a phenomenon, many were still skeptical of the discolored bark, Jordan openly admits. Critics of the bleeding tree demanded people banish the mystical thought. Belief in a miracle gave way over time to the conviction of myth.
Article from The Ulster Gazette on May 24, 1990
“It is quite obvious that nothing unusual is happening,” friend Fr. Brian D’Arcy asserted to The Ulster Gazette on May 24, 1990. “Long before the Cardinal died, the tree did whatever it is doing, because that’s what those trees do. It’s as simple as that.”
Fr. Eugene Sweeney, the current administrator of St. Patrick’s Cathedral Parish in Armagh, agrees there was a natural cause for the weeping tree.
“My immediate reaction would be to believe nothing supernatural was happening in these cases,” Fr. Sweeney divulged in carefully formed phrases. “From a faith and church perspective, we wish to be very cautious because the integrity of faith could be jeopardized and brought into disrepute by what essentially is folklore and superstition.”
Many Armagh residents rejected the misleading notion of the bleeding tree, including the Cardinal’s family. Mrs. Deirdre Fee, Cardinal O’Fiaich’s sister-in-law, strongly insists, “absolutely nothing spectacular or remarkable happened” to the tree. She reinforces there was no weeping tree and that the liquid emitting from the tree was from a cut branch needed for the funeral service.
Forgotten with time
As years passed, so did the controversy surrounding the tree. Memory fails many Armagh residents and church officials when asked about the miracle or the myth today.
“I personally don’t care about it,” casually notes Armagh resident Liz Wasson. “But there are a lot of people around here who would care because there were a number of bleeding statues in various areas around Ireland, and the tree would have fit into that belief.”
Since the church did not acknowledge ‘The Bleeding Tree,’ many lost recollection of the mystery.
“There was never really any closure on it such as to say what it actually was,” admits Jordan. “But people did flock for a few weeks and then after a few weeks passed, it was actually forgotten because the clergy and Catholic Church weren’t really on for it.”
Perhaps the church was embarrassed. Perhaps it was only sap. But no definite answer was ever given to the people nor will it ever be.
“Nothing was ever resolved as to what it was, so that makes it even more of a mystery,” Jordan said. “And that’s why you sort of believe what you want. It does no harm.”
The church, however, holds a different viewpoint.
“From a faith perspective, we must not always seek reasons for what we can’t understand,” Fr. Sweeney concedes. “There is a danger we are yielding to superstition and not giving our faith the dignity it deserves.”
Cardinal O'Fiaich's tomb
Continuing the past
Throughout the years, the significance of the tree slowly withered and developed into a fading tale of mystery and suspicion. Does anyone still believe the tree wept blood? Will they admit it publicly? Why are there still casual whispers about the tree if so many people deny it? Only the residents of Armagh can answer these questions.
“The tree is just another part of the history of Armagh,” Jordan maintains. “And it will always be there as part of the history whether people like it or not.”