What is a cult? This vague and sometimes confusing term usually applies to an exclusive and secretive organsiation that uses pseudo-religious ideals to benefit its leaders, often financially, while exploiting misled members.
Most of these groups will not identify themselves as cults and choose to seek the status of a religion. Historically, Ireland has been a predominantly Catholic nation and the idea of a ‘cult’ to many, is an American-born concept. There have been radical groups however that challenge social norms. For instance the Irish branch of The Atlantis Foundation, founded in 1974, existed on Innisfree off the coast of Donegal up until 1988.
The Foundation was nicknamed the ‘Screamers’ for their unorthodox therapy sessions involving loud yelling. After moving to the Columbia branch, the group resurfaced in the Irish media in 2000 when 18 year old member, Tristan James, was brutally murdered by drunken men connected to a local militia as he embarked on a journey to Ireland.
News articles from the time, including an Independent report by Mary Braid, used the word “cult” to describe Tristan’s connections, as if it were the Foundation’s fault he had fallen to such a heinous end. The ‘Screamers’ were not truly a cult. They indeed were unusual and somewhat removed from Irish society, yet they didn’t noticeably process dark or ulterior motives.
Though people may consider the Church of Scientology to have been a possibly dangerous presence in Ireland, the reality of the situation is far different. In fact, the Henry Street based office has been sued for millions in the past and is by all accounts making a loss financially in comparison to their efforts in the USA and UK. Perhaps this is due to its incompatibility and lack of affiliation with Irish culture. There is however an Irish group pertaining to the accepted criteria of a cult, which has only began to lose power in recent years.
The House of Prayer in Achill is one of Ireland’s most controversial examples of a deceitful organisation, taking money from people under ill-informed pretences and exploiting the desperate. Officially opened by opened in 1993 by then Archbishop of Tuam, Joseph Cassidy, the company known as Our Lady Queen of Peace House of Prayer (Achill) Ltd secured a tax exemption status from revenue commissioners.
This allowed Christina Gallagher, the head of the church, to collect all donations personally and distribute them as she wished. Working along-side Father Mcginnity, the chief spokesperson for the House of Prayer and ‘spiritual director’, Christina collected millions throughout the 1990s and up to the late-2000s from the direct donations of religious admirers.
Sunday World journalist Jim Gallagher released Immaculate Deception: The Shocking Story of Christina Gallagher and ‘The House of Prayer’ in 2009. According to Gallagher, it is virtually impossible to know just how much money Christina has amounted, as most of the donations were pledged in cash. Previous devotees of Christina, including Michael and Betty Morrissey from Waterford, admitted they had personally given her €100,000 over a ten year period. A standard methodology of cult leaders is to strike fear in vulnerable people, while offering a solution involving their support.
There is a key factor separating the House of Prayer from other religious organisations, perhaps being the reason it once amassed 4,000 people during an annual day of celebration and was pivotally successful in making cold hard cash.
In 1988, Christina claimed to have experienced several visions from Our Lady (Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ) and was instructed by her to garner a return to religion. The vision warned of a destructive day of rapture that lay upon the horizon. In keeping with this approach, Christina also stated that she suffered from stigmata. Church ceremonies include Christina going into bizarre trances, apparently experiencing direct contact with the divine.
The Mayo House of Prayer sells a multitude of religious paraphernalia and there has always been an incentive for visitors to offer donations. Jim Gallaher said that Christina and Mcginnity would appeal for large amounts of money and explain that the Mother Mary wanted more houses of prayer to be constructed. At one point, they mentioned that a house was needed in each Irish province.
Though millions were donated to the organisation from loyal followers, including one event in Mullingar where €1.8million was pledged, no such promise was kept. Instead, a lavish house costing €4million in Malahide was purchased, as were several other expensive private properties. It was not until 2006 that the church lost its charitable status. Though numbers of participants have dropped in recent years due to negative publicity and awareness, Christina’s company still managed to bring in €314,508 between 2011 and 2012 in donations alone.
Dialogue Ireland is an independent trust, “promoting awareness and understanding of religious movements and cultism”. The group intend to educate the public on the dangers of cult behavior and offer assistance to those in need. A significant but immeasurable number in our population are still under the control of cuts, which they claim needs to be addressed. If the recent events in London are to teach us anything, it’s that we should never underestimate the power and influence of cult behavior. Dialogue Ireland can be contacted at either firstname.lastname@example.org, or 353 -1- 8309384.