"Mum can be difficult to get organised... she gets so distracted by angels"
For the first time, Lorna Byrne's daughter Pearl reveals what it's like to grow up with a famous mystic mother. By Una Brankin
From a distance they look like sisters, one much taller; both with long silky hair. Even close up, it's hard to believe Lorna Byrne turned 60 in March. The tiny mystic and her daughter Pearl (32) hesitate at the doorway of the luxurious private dining room upstairs in the plush city restaurant, where we're all meeting for lunch. Lorna and Pearl are ushered in by a waitress and Lorna breaks into her familiar, serene smile as she approaches to greet me with a light hug.
Pearl proffers a formal handshake. She's more at home in the barber's shop she runs with a friend in Maynooth, Co Kildare, but of late she has been acting as her busy mother's personal assistant, travelling to book signings and interviews with her. It's a demanding job looking after the best-selling author of four books - Angels in My Hair, Stairways to Heaven, A Message of Hope from the Angels, and Love From Heaven - which been translated into 30 languages, with the last two going straight into the number one slot in the UK Sunday Times best-selling list.
Well written in clear, uncluttered prose, these uplifting accounts of Lorna's avowed life-long communication with angels relay the divine message that we each have a guardian angel "we can call on to guide and help us". Given that the success of the books has made Lorna an international phenomenon, constantly in demand from broadcast networks (she even blogs for the Huffington Post), she should be a very wealthy woman. But Lorna, who has had two near-death experiences during her life, displays none of the trappings, dressing simply in an off-the-peg floral dress, accessorised by a plain gold cross around her neck.
She could eat in a Michelin-starred restaurant every day. Instead, she gives a generous percentage of her income to charities and leads a no-frills existence in a Kilkenny farmhouse left to her by a friend many years ago, when she hadn't two shillings to rub together. So, lunch today is a treat for both Lorna and Pearl, her elder daughter by her late husband Joe, who died at 48 after many years of serious ill-health, which left him unable to work.
Pearl looks more like her father than her mother, with the same golden hair and good bone structure. She was only 16 when Joe died in 2000, "as foretold by Angel Elijah", as Lorna writes in Angela in My Hair. Pearl's now married with two children, Billy Bob (3) and Jessica (15 months), and job-shares at the aptly named Redz barbers with Karen, her fellow redheaded business partner of 11 years.
It's the first time speaking to the Press for Pearl, who is referred to by her second name, Ruth, in Lorna's books. So, while her world-famous mother gives quiet counsel to Sallyanne, who lost her 16-year-old son two years ago, I take the opportunity to quiz Pearl on what it's like to have a mum that has been to heaven and back.
"She's so normal to me but what she has experienced is quite breath-taking," she says in a slightly lilting brogue. "A lot of what I read in Angels In My Hair, I didn't know. I do remember mum being quieter and exhausted sometimes, after people would call asking her to pray for them. She had a little room and she'd bring them in there and light a candle. I saw her as a sort of counsellor with a twist. I just took it for granted; that's the way she was."
Lorna had been part of a local prayer group in Maynooth all her married life, but had never disclosed her communication with angels until she started to work on what was to become her first book. As she is dyslexic, she spoke into a tape recorder at first, later moving on to a voice-activated computer programme.
Lorna, then Fitzgerald, was 17 when she met Joe Byrne while they were both working in the petrol station/garage her late father supervised. Plagued with serious illnesses for most of his life, Joe was cared for at home by Lorna in his last months, when he suffered a series of strokes.
"It took a very long time to adjust to not having our father around, we still miss him every day," says Pearl. "He was very ill for a number of years, so, even at 16, I was happy for him to no longer be suffering. I think losing a parent at any age is tough but I think when you are younger, it definitely changes you."
Pearl has two older brothers, Christopher (38) and Niall (35). Megan is now a 19 year-old student, living in Dublin. Lorna has spoken of the great help the independently-minded Pearl was to her in those dark days: "She was very determined as a teenager, yet was shy but outspoken and liked to make up her own mind."
Another 16-plus years on, Pearl is still willingly in a supportive role, to the extent that the mother-daughter roles are somewhat reversed.
"I always say I'm the mammy to both my little sister and my mum - it's like I have two sisters!" laughs Pearl.
"Mum's hard to organise at times. She gets distracted (by the angels) and I know she's not listening - in fact, I could kill her sometimes! She becomes very deep in thought.
"But I'm proud of her. She has helped so many people and when they come to thank her at signings and so on, I have to stand back sometimes, and think, 'This is my mum!'
"Like, the first time she was on the Late Late Show, it was surreal. That's the thing about mum now - I have to share her with the world. It's awesome, though, the love and hope she gives to people, and it doesn't matter where you're from or what religion you are."
Not all the media have been kind to Lorna. The notion of angels and trips to "God's library" is too bizarre for many, and she has been described as everything from "deluded" to "a charlatan" and "a supernatural quack".
Surely that must hurt?
"Sometimes I find it hard because she's my mother and I know how genuine she is," Pearl admits. "It doesn't bother her. I went on a tour with her in Prague recently, and to see the hope and joy she gives people of all walks of life, young and old, is amazing.
"We're all naturally afraid of the unknown but I know, from mum, that heaven is a brilliant place and you wouldn't want to come back. I don't want to go too young but I'm not afraid of death now.
"Mum often says she would have been happy to stay in heaven when she had her first near-death experience, and the other times since, and that when you go, you don't want to come back. The first time I heard that I was upset, but I know when her time is right to go, she will be very happy, and that we'll all see dad again."
It's mind-boggling stuff to take in but there's no hard-sell here. Both Lorna and Pearl are matter-of-fact and quietly assured on the most metaphysical quandaries for mankind, and Lorna's sincerity and decency is obvious.
Country legend Daniel O'Donnell has lent his support on her book sleeves: "Lorna's wisdom and insights are breathtaking," he said. "This is a woman I have known for many years and admire enormously. She has made a big difference to my life and that of many others."
Gloria Hunniford is also an admirer and actress/producer Roma Downey has remarked that Lorna's story "touched her heart."
I'm far more interested, however, in the comments of her formerly sceptical UK publisher Mark Booth, who became convinced of Lorna's "palpable sincerity and authenticity'" after she told him, at their second meeting, that he needed an operation on his lower abdomen and he should see a doctor straight away.
"She must have seen the panic in my eyes because she told me it wasn't cancer or anything like that," he said in a previous interview. "'Anyway, I went to the doctor and it turned out I had a hernia and an operation was duly done.
"Everything Lorna says checks out in the Judeo-Christian tradition," he added. "I suspect there's no one else like her in the world - no one who has the same constant access to the spiritual world."
Likewise, several scientists and medics have become convinced that Lorna is someone very special, such as the distinguished American physician Dr Larry Dossey, the New York Times best-selling author. He notes: "Since recorded history, certain individuals have sensed, seen, and conversed with angelic presences. Since we are appallingly ignorant about the nature of consciousness, it is premature to dismiss these reports as fantasies, which is too often done. Lorna Byrne's Angels in my Hair is captivating. It is both a challenge to sceptics and an inspiration to those whose experiences confirm transcendental realities."
Pearl admits she's pleased when her mother gets considered, positive reviews for her books. An avid reader, she's first to devour Lorna's manuscripts before they're sent off to the UK and American publishers.
To hell with the detractors, then?
"Well, I don't judge anyone for what they choose to believe in or not. I definitely look for the good in everyone, even when I'm feeling hurt. We were made to go to Mass until we were 14 or 15; it was our choice after that. I don't believe in some of the church's teachings but I do believe it's wrong to judge others.
"All I want for my mum is for her to continue spreading her message, and maybe to find some time to herself to rest."
- A new edition of Lorna Byrne's best-seller Love From Heaven is now available with an additional section, incorporating a "seven day path to love yourself more". Lorna Byrne will speak at a special event in aid of children's charities APA - A Partnership with Africa, Unicef Ireland and Blue Box, from 7.00pm to 9.00pm in The Everglades Hotel, Prehen Road, Londonderry on May 21. See lornabyrne.com
In her own words: Lorna on Pearl ...
I remember the joy and the happiness and the relief of Pearl's birth, and holding her in my arms, and my husband Joe saying, 'I knew it was a little girl'. I smiled when he said that because I knew he was all the time listening to his guardian angel.
I also remember Pearl's two brothers climbing up onto the bed to get close to her, wanting to hold her. A few days later I noticed the odd little hair on her head had a tint of gold and I said to Joe that I thought she might be a honey-blonde redhead like him.
Every time I look at Joe's photograph, I see Pearl. Their colouring is very alike. All of my children have part of Joe's personality within them, and I guess being their mother, I see it more.
After Joe died, it was extremely hard not having him around. But God always leaves the strongest parent, even though at the time I wouldn't have thought I was the strongest. Even though three of my children were teenagers and the youngest only four, the older ones helped me a great deal. Even to this day, we all pull together as one family.
I don't think their childhood differed very much from my own, except that they were not considered retarded. They are not dyslexic like their mum. Naturally, Pearl was surprised when I told her I was going to write a book about the angels. I'll always remember her sitting up in her bed, asking when she could read it. Then, one day, and I went up the stairs and there she was reading the manuscript. She gave me a big smile and just kept on reading.
I'd never told anyone about my contact with the angels from I was a small child. The angels told me to keep it a secret, so even my children didn't know, but when they read the manuscript they said, 'Now we know why we could never keep any secrets from you'.
Pearl has been a great help to me and as time has gone on, she's been able to do more to help me. I don't think we clash; she looks after me so well. Pearl's the mother of my youngest grandchild, Jessica, who's 15 months, and my grandson, Billy Bob's sister. Pearl was born on the day of my birthday, March 26. She was a great present; it was Mother's Day as well.