IN the space of a week his alleged visions of the Virgin Mary have been labelled both the ravings of a mad man and the manifestation of faith.
He has defied the church, offended the Catholic clergy and reached out to thousands of believers with 'messages' of love from heaven.
Following the appearance of Our Lady on a tree stump in Rathkeale, Co Limerick, during the summer, Ballyfermot man Joe Coleman is the latest to claim sightings of the mother of God.
Coleman, a father-of-four, is known in his local area as a 'healer', a renowned poet and a man who claims to receive messages from the Virgin Mary. Joe Coleman is a lot of different things to a lot of different people.
To the church, it appears, he is a menacing irritant. The Archbishop of Tuam, Dr Michael Neary, said of Coleman's visions: "It is not healthy, does not give glory to God and certainly is not good witness to the faith to be looking for extraordinary phenomena."
When asked for an interview, the self-professed clairvoyant said he was exhausted from last week's experience at Knock. In a month, he said, he will talk again.
Some said the Virgin Mary did appear last Saturday as Coleman predicted, and he even claimed a small boy had been cured of blindness, which has yet to be substantiated.
"Someone once said that half the world will believe nothing and half the world will believe anything," said Fr Séamus Ryan, a priest in Coleman's Ballyfermot parish.
While taking him at his word on spiritual healing, Fr Ryan seemed a little more sceptical about the visions at Knock.
"The idea that Our Lady would appear again 130 years [after the initial vision], well that is not the way these things happen," he said.
"I remember when he said on Joe Duffy that he had had these apparitions as a kid – that kind of rang alarm bells with me. A child's imagination can run riot. But I believe he is sincere about it."
The authorities at the Knock shrine are still in talks about how to handle Colemans's next 'vision' and the potential thousands that will turn up to see it on 5 December.
Security provisions may be at the top of the agenda given the level of crowd surges and threat of crushing that occurred last week.
Many people in Knock are deeply unhappy about the prospect, a sentiment expressed last week by one local woman who said: "The respect they show in Knock [during the regular pilgrimage season], there is none of that... that was going on last Saturday".
This is unlikely to faze Coleman though, who angrily dismissed any criticisms.
Coleman has found his ardent supporters and detractors. How does a man from a modest housing estate in west Dublin come to terms with such notoriety?
For locals, their now famous neighbour remains a man of mystery.
"I just don't get the man. He won't make eye contact with people in the street; he is very dour, very, very dour. He doesn't really talk to anyone," said one Ballyfermot resident familiar with the Coleman family.
"He never ever mentioned to anyone around here this thing about being a medium. I only heard about it around two years ago and I remember saying 'what?'
"The family are very hard to get to know; they are very clannish. It is only through the kids playing together that you get to know them. His wife is very quiet, doesn't say much about herself – it's all about Joe."
As regards Coleman's claims to be a healer, the neighbour is sceptical.
"If you are going to [heal people] for free, would you rent a place out or would you do it in your sitting room? Everyone around here thinks he is a bit mad," he said.
"If he believes what he is saying then fair balls so long as he isn't conning anyone. But there is absolutely no sign of a penny being spent; that is true."
There also seems to be mutual antipathy between Coleman and the church over a matter at the very heart of faith itself.
Speaking of his meeting with Knock parish priest Monsignor Joseph Quinn, Coleman said: "He looked at me as if I had two heads and how dare Our Lady appear to me. You have to be a priest for Our Lady to appear to you according to this man."
His claim that Mary told him she was angry at the church deepened the divide.
"She told me to tell the church, especially in Knock, she said she was very angry… she felt like she was insulted on the 11th because they never came out of the church to see her."
He referred to Pat Lavelle, the manager of the Knock shrine, who had to contend with a massive crowd on an unplanned event, as a "very, very ignorant man".
Fr Ryan is also troubled by Coleman's claims: "It would bother me in the sense that if Joe said that [the Virgin Mary was angry] it would be alright but to say Our Lady was saying that…well how do we distinguish what Our Lady has said to him and what he thinks? How much of it is coloured by his own opinion?"
Fr Ryan met Coleman some months ago when he learned for the first time of his 'abilities'.
"I would have seen him from time to time. About four or five months ago I met Joe in the civic centre and he came over to me. He told me that people come to him for cures," he said.
"I had never had a chat with him but we were talking for about an hour and he was telling me that people come to him for healing and that he had appearances from Our Lady and I wouldn't have known about that at all.
"He is a very genuine fellow and you would take him very seriously as you would anyone talking about a nearness to God.
"I would say, 'You know Joe, people who have those [experiences] have them for themselves and not for other people.'"
According to Fr Ryan, Coleman is a family man, who is regularly seen socialising with friends and who was, at one stage at least, best known as a poet with one particular composition famous for its description of the Ballyfermot area.
"There is no doubt that some people do have [healing] gifts. People have always been recognised for having gifts like that – there is nothing unusual about that," he said.
"He said that people give a donation at the end but we didn't go into details."
Whatever the varying opinions of Joe Coleman, he is Ireland's latest holy show.
In a time of financial and social meltdown, it is perhaps not surprising that Coleman's messages and visions are gathering an ever increasing number of disciples.
If Joe Coleman, or his message, can be responsible for attracting yet more to the corridors of unquestioning faith, only time will tell. But the people of Knock will find out very soon.
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