Why I'm praying for President Trump, my relief Martin McGuinness gave up violence... and trying to find the right manIrish grandmother Lorna Byrne, who claims that she is guided by angels, packs out venues all around the world. With a new book out and tickets on sale for a talk in Londonderry next month, she talks to Una Brankin about grief, love and politics
Back in 2006, an eminent publisher stood at the door of his London premises with a colleague, watching Lorna Byrne walk away after their first ever meeting.
Lorna had given him the manuscript for her first book, Angels In My Hair, and told him a story about her encounters with God and his messengers, that stretched the bounds of credibility. As she took her leave, Lorna knew exactly what the publisher and his colleague were wondering: ‘Is she for real?’
More than a decade later, Mark Booth of Hodder Stoughton/Coronet has published seven books by the dyslexic Lorna and, in the process, has become a good friend.
“He’s has been there for me always and he worked very hard editing my new book, with his belief and excitement in it,” says Lorna. “He understands me so well and he has such patience. I have to write by speaking into my computer — using a system called Dragon Dictation. It would take me a year to write a few lines. Mark has given me such encouragement and has become a wonderful friend.”
Cynics will note that the millions of copies Lorna’s books have sold wouldn’t hurt the writer/publisher relationship, but I’m assured by a third party, who is in-the-know, that the bond is real and that Hodder has high hopes for Lorna’s latest autobiographical offering, Angels At My Fingertips, the sequel to Angels In My Hair.
The 342-page book covers stories of Lorna’s early life and the present, along with detailed descriptions of how, she says, angels interact with God, each other and us. For the first time, she says she reveals the role of the souls of our loved ones, who, she asserts, can return from heaven briefly to help and guide us.
In one of its most moving passages, she describes seeing the soul of her late husband Joe, who died at 46 after many years of illnesses. She was at his graveside with their grandchildren, when she saw him standing by the gravestone.
“He looked youthful and healthy again; very handsome,” she says.
“He had one arm on the headstone and he was looking at my granddaughter Jessica, who was trying to pull up weeds from the grave. Then he smiled at us and said ‘Hello’. I spoke to him silently and he told me God had just decided to give me a surprise. His grave was surrounded by angels. They encircled us.”
She’s on the phone from a book tour in the US and I can hear a catch in her voice. Lorna had been very much in love with Joe and was devastated when he died in March 2000, despite having been “pre-warned by the angels” of her future husband’s fate, long before they met.
“I was filled with so much love and emotion when I saw him,” she says. “Even now, talking to you about it, there are tears in my eyes. Yes, I wanted to keep him there, yet I knew he can’t be here in flesh and blood.
“I’m happy he’s in heaven and not in his human body, he was so sick and had so much pain. I’m glad he’s free of it.”
A youthful-looking 63, with a stack of money in the bank, even after the huge percentage she ploughs into her three chosen charities, Lorna would make a good catch for a more mature man. Would she ever marry again?
“The right man hasn’t come along!” she laughs. “Sometimes, I think, yeah, it would be lovely to have a man in my life but I don’t know how any man could stick my life and the pace of it now.
“I’m travelling so much, which is tiring, and after a long flight, all I want to do is drop my coat on the floor, put my slippers on and make myself a cup of tea any time I want.”
The Angels At My Fingertips book signing tour hits Londonderry next month. The author has been following events there on the news in America, where she has been asking people to pray for President Donald Trump, amidst the “awful lot of hate and anger” engendered by the presidential election.
“I know Trump is nervous and terrified, in one sense of doing the wrong thing, and yet he’s so hell-bent on what he’s doing,” she says.
“I do get into trouble when I ask people to pray for him but God wants the world leaders to find solutions to conflicts, and America is the nation that has been chosen to lead the world.”
War and peace is one of Lorna’s preoccupations and she is particularly mindful of the victims of our troubled past in Northern Ireland. Her grandfather fought with the old IRA before joining the government in the Republic, and she sees parallels between him and the late Martin McGuinness.
Her views chime with those of the late Rev Ian Paisley’s, that what you are at the end of your life over-rides where you start out.
“You don’t forget but you can forgive,” she says of the former Deputy First Minister’s IRA past.
“I understand the hurt caused to the families of the victims of violence, as I understand that those who atone are forgiven by God. I know Martin McGuinness has gone to heaven and it is not for us to judge him. I know that God loves him.
“He started off on the wrong path but he moved towards peace. We have to look for the good in people, not the bad. He was for peace.
“I would love to have met him. Ireland needs more like him, no matter what side they’re from. He was a good man. Hopefully there will be more like Martin.”
She adds: “Almost all of us in Ireland have parents or grandparents who were caught up in fighting down through the generations. My grandfather was a big strong man and he was good and kind, even though he was part of the old IRA.”
Initially wary of Lorna’s claims, the Catholic Church is at last beginning to show recognition, asking her to speak in front of congregations.
The leading American theologian Matthew Fox has even compared her to the medieval saint, Hildegard of Bingen.
As a lifelong devout Catholic, she is pleased at Rome’s changing attitude towards her.
“It feels wonderful to be invited to speak in churches,” she admits. “Priests ask me to come and give talks; I do when I can. And they say they love to see the church filled up. I speak in churches all around the world. God has his own way of packing churches.”
A realist, she supports the right of priests to marry, as well as gay rights.
“Yes, I think it would give priests a better experience of life. How can they tell a married couple what to do, or talk about children’s issues when they have no experience of it?”
Lorna has also come to the favourable attention of leading Islamic theologians in recent years, and Angels At My Fingertips includes her encounters with an ‘Angel Arabic’.
The attack on Westminster Bridge, claimed indirectly by the so-called Islamic State group, occurred just as Lorna was flying to the US.
“There are always a few rotten apples,” she remarks. “I’ve spoken to so many Muslims over the years; they are peaceful people. There are marvellous people of the Islamic faith in authority and in academia doing their best to keep the peace and keep people calm.
“A whole religion cannot be condemned because of the actions of a few; the same for Northern Ireland. There has been so much war in Ireland, as a whole, and now there is peace.
“People have to strive to hold onto it. Excuses must not be found to break the peace. The angels have told me that Northern Ireland is the cornerstone for peace in the world, and it must remain so.”
In one of the more eyebrow-raising, but beautifully written sections of the new book, Lorna recalls her soul being taken by the angels to meet God, who proceeds to show her how he creates a new soul, plucked from his heart. Naturally, she gets asked all the time what God and souls look like.
“That whole part so hard to describe in words, as it was when I wrote before about meeting Him in the library in heaven. God wanted me to share it. His face is so full of love. He has a male appearance but it’s hard to define. He just glows.
“He gives a human appearance we can relate to, from whatever culture we’re from,” she explains. “Our souls are all part of Him; specks of his light. The soul becomes part of the human being at conception and your guardian angel join us at birth and stay with us until death.
“When your time comes, you will see the souls of your loved ones in their human form so you can recognise them and your soul takes son your human form, only more beautiful, as in radiant. But we leave bodies behind on Earth when we die.”
The inevitable scepticism that greets her doesn’t affect this very modern mystic.
“It doesn’t bother me. It doesn’t matter. In some ways, I think it’s good because it opens up debate,” she concludes. “What I do is not about me; it’s about the message I’ve been given to spread, and I can take it in my stride now better. And I’m never alone — I have three angels sitting with me now.”
With that, her daughter and PA, Pearl, can be heard calling her to get ready for her next talk. They’re demanding bosses, these angels.
Lorna Byrne Talks 2017 in association with Eason will take place at the Everglades Hotel, Londonderry on April 12, 7.30pm. Tickets are £32 (inc booking fee) from www.lornabyrne.com and the ticket price includes a signed copy of Lorna’s new book Angels At My Fingertips. A total of 50% of all proceeds from the Lorna Byrne Talks 2017 in association with Eason go to the Lorna Byrne Children’s Foundation