Danny Gallagher: Power in the palm of his hands
Danny Gallagher, from Maghera is the seventh son of a seventh son. So does that give him the ability to heal? Una Brankin finds out
In his youth, Danny Gallagher looked like a cross between the Sixties folk singer Donovan and musical icon David Essex. His face is fleshier and ruddier these days but he has managed to keep the dark curls, although they're not as thick on top now. For a down-to-earth no-frills Maghera man, he's amusingly reluctant to give away his age (I'd put him in his early 60s).
At the height of his international fame in the Eighties, the seventh son of a seventh son had the chance to make a pop star's fortune when major promoters came knocking on his door. They'd heard the reports of his miraculous cures all over the world and saw the pound signs.
"The trouble was, they wanted to put me in these great big halls which would have meant the people would have been charged far too much to see me," he recalls over coffee in Armagh's City Hotel.
"So I turned them all down. This is not something I do to make money. It's to help people. I only make enough to cover my expenses. I usually only break even, but it's important to use hotels because they are neutral; actual religion doesn't come into my work, so using a parish hall or whatever wouldn't be right." He charges £25 per healing session, which usually take place in hotels. Taking in the cost of the hotel, advertising, insurance and transport, he reckons each gathering costs £5,000 to put on. He is incredibly busy working as a healer full-time and has no other source of income. You just have to look at his unsophisticated Seventies-style website (www.danny-gallagher.com), with its diddle-dee-dee soundtrack to see the total lack of a marketing budget.
Much loved by those he has helped – many of whom have come to regard him as part of the family – his activities have, however, drawn the disapproval of the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland (ASAI), specifically for, they say, the claim that he could treat "serious or prolonged ailments or conditions requiring the attention of a registered medical or other qualified practitioner". According to the ASAI, a complainant said that: "Danny Gallagher had no medical qualifications and while no form of medical treatment was on offer, the advertiser nevertheless appeared to be making healing claims for serious illnesses."
Danny is untroubled by the claim, though.
"The complainant I think was some private doctor who I believe is jealous of my healing and tried to make it out it was not true," he shrugs.
"My healing is true; it's backed up by testimonies. I don't worry about that – it came to nothing at all. I asked the ASAI to come and meet the people who were healed and they would speak for themselves. They refused. It's some stupid code that no-one understands."
These testimonies are in their hundreds and they all cite a great heat coming from Danny's hands when he touches them. Recent ones include 78-year-old Antrim woman, Martha Rea, who was blind from incurable degenerative eye disease until she started seeing Danny for healing, and Tipperary student, Laura Halloran, who suffered from Peripheral Neuropathy in her feet, nerve damage which left her in such agony she could hardly bear to walk to the toilet.
"I was on 23 tablets a day, which did nothing for the pain," Laura (26) told a Sunday newspaper.
"I had to get injections for pain relief but when they wore off, I'd be in complete agony again. It was as if my feet were stuck in the fire. But the minute I met Danny, in Kildare, I knew immediately this man could help me. I met him three times in Athy and continued to have the pain until one night I slept – I couldn't sleep properly before because the weight of a duvet or blankets on my feet was unbearable. The pain just disappeared and I was able to go to college, something that was impossible for me before meeting Danny."
The day we meet, Danny has driven from his home in Maghera to the City Hotel in Armagh, where he often works. He arrives right on time and walks in brisk little strides to my table in the foyer. I've a habit of speaking quickly at times and he tells me not to be nervous, that he's "an ordinary person", just like me. He sits beside me on the sofa, insists on paying for the coffees, and leans in to chat – very openly and with good humour. I like him immediately.
So did Chris Tarrant when he met Danny while filming in Ireland in 2002, describing how he'd seen the "unassuming Irish man's God-given talent" for himself at a healing event. Tarrant reported on the astonishing case of Fintona woman, Mary Mullan, who had been paralysed after suffering a seizure. At her second healing session with Danny, she was able to get out of her wheelchair and walk towards him.
"Do you know what Chris Tarrant and I had for our tea?" chuckles Danny in his broad south Derry lilt. "Two great big cheese rolls each! He's a nice fella, Chris, no airs and graces at all."
According to ancient Celtic wisdom, the seventh son of a seventh son possesses the power to heal people by simply touching them. The origin of the legend is unclear, but it was common during the 17th century in England and according to the Encyclopedia of Folk Medicine, this idea of the seventh of the seventh being a healer is widespread among many cultures.
Danny's father, Michael Gallagher from Draperstown, survived the Battle of the Somme in WWI and won several medals for bravery in the conflict. A private man and hardworking labourer all his life, Michael never spoke about the war. Danny also values his privacy and prefers to keep his wife Nora and family out of the limelight. And like his father, he never spoke during his childhood of the experience that would change his life forever.
He was only eight when he had an extraordinarily vivid dream about curing a young girl, in which he was given a prayer to say for the sick. He told no-one and made no attempt to heal anyone for many years after his vision, until he finished school and bought himself an ice-cream van.
One of his regulars was a tiny crippled girl for whom he always saved a free ice-cream. He laid his hands on the girl in the manner revealed to him as a child, said the prayer (which he keeps private) and the girl began to regain the power of her legs.
The story of the cure was reported by the local newspaper and Danny's life was changed for good.
He obtained an immediate following locally, where the tradition of – if not necessarily the belief in – the powers of the seventh son is deep-rooted through generations.
As people began to claim more cures, the national media began to take notice, at first concentrating efforts on exposing him as a fraud, later supporting him with exclusive accounts.
Hundreds of letters and telephone calls were now coming daily from England. He eventually decided to take the boat across to England, but what he initially intended as a national tour came to an abrupt halt in the industrial heartland around Birmingham, because of the great demand there for his services.
One cure in the Midlands did more to enhance Danny's reputation than anything before.
Jean Prichett, then a 40-year-old housewife, had been blind for 22 years from what was diagnosed as Retinitis Pigmentosa. She had visited specialists all over Britain without finding help.
Her cure caused an immediate sensation in the popular press, attaining front page headlines in the News Of The World on October 31, 1976.
The medical profession was immediately critical. One specialist expressed the opinion that Mrs Pritchett suffered from a case of hysterical blindness which was probably brought on by the psychological technique of autosuggestion. But the Pritchett 'miracle' was followed a month later by Gallagher's equally remarkable cure of Kathleen Bailey from the village of Dawley, near Shrewsbury, in England. Mrs Bailey, a 29-year-old mother-of-three, had been confined to a wheelchair after a spinal injury at work 11 years before. The condition did not respond to medical treatment and grew progressively worse.
"I was virtually a cripple," Mrs Bailey told the Shropshire Star on December 9, 1976. "I could not do anything." Friends and relatives persuaded her to visit Gallagher at his clinic in Erdington, Birmingham. After treatment by the healer she was able to leave her wheelchair. A remarkable photograph of her in an article in the Shropshire Star, shows her bending to touch her toes, and a consultant at the Shropshire Orthopedic Hospital at Gobowen, a small town near the Welsh border, described her recovery as "incredibly dramatic." Danny stresses, however, that he does not cure everyone, and strongly advises those he sees not to stop taking any form of medication or treatment.
"Not even Jesus cured everyone who came to him," he says. "I don't feel any different to anybody else.
"I never asked to be a healer, it just happened. I can't explain it."
Does a person have to believe in God and divine healing in order to be cured?
"No," replies Danny. "I've been able to help non-believers, the blind English girl never had been in a church in her life. And then there's babies. They don't believe in anything and still some of them are cured. The blind girl came over to see me a while after and she loved driving through the countryside. I asked her what was the nicest thing she saw and she said, 'A leaf falling off a tree'.
"It's the simple things that have the power in them. I've clergy on both sides and nuns coming to see me all the time with all sorts of problems. Even the doctors now are more supportive. I'm very lucky with the world's media too. Once they caught on I was genuine, they were very positive in their reports."
Back in 2002, when Deportivo La Coruna defender, Aldo Duscher, broke David Beckham's foot, Mr Gallagher offered to help heal the former Manchester United winger.
Beckham reportedly asked Danny to be put on standby to treat the injury, as it was feared that the damage to his foot would not be receptive enough to medical treatment in time for the World Cup in South Korea and Japan. Danny proudly shows me the letter of thanks on Manchester United headed paper, and another from the late Queen Mother's private secretary, thanking him for his offer to help her when she was unwell, and assuring him she was feeling much better. He also shows me newspaper coverage of his cures in Kenya, Holland, Australia, Washington, New York, Singapore, India, Pakistan and Turkey, as well as emails from three doctors, from London, Letterkenny and the famously expensive private Blackrock Clinic in Dublin, asking for his help with personal medical issues they couldn't treat with conventional medicine. There are also dozens of letters from delighted people citing cures from depression, paralysis, eczema, anorexia and psoriasis.
Such is his reputation for healing, a RTE radio team recently followed Danny around for a week for a documentary on his work, while he will also feature in a major upcoming History Channel series, Miracles Decoded, which airs this June.
A typical working day for him begins with replying to emails, which can take an hour or two, depending on the requests. Some enquire if he is returning to hold clinics abroad so that they can visit him in their own country. Others ask him to visit hospitals, some of whom are seeking absent healing.
Then it's off to his healing centres across the country, from his clinics in Maghera and Cavan to hotels such as the Clanree in Letterkenny, where he sets up signs to direct people to the room he's in. He sees people individually from 2-8.30pm, "sometimes with no breaks in between".
"I am so exhausted when I get back to my room sometimes I could sleep on a chair watching the news on television. I'll get up around 7am and go down for breakfast at a quiet table, hoping no-one will come over to my table and start telling me their problems before I have time to butter my toast! If I am lucky, no-one bothers me, although I couldn't ignore anyone who might appear. Then I head to the next city and do the same thing all over again.
"Sometimes the healing works and sometimes not. It can be very stressful – travelling, taking phone calls and listening to everyone's problems, some very disturbing, such as boys and girls who have been abused by a family member or close relative from a very young age. The suffering they came through can be very disturbing."
One of the most disturbing encounters he's had recently was in Washington, with young American soldiers badly injured in Iraq.
"They were only babies those fellas. Babies in their teens. One was in a deep coma with half the head blown off him. I took his hand and he squeezed my hand. All I could do was touch his head and pray for him; I don't know if he survived.
"It's not all bad though. I met a 90-year-old the other day who could hardly walk and when I touched her she said it was years since anyone had felt her leg! You get a good laugh sometimes."
Next stop for this warm, humble man is a trip to Russia, where he has been invited for healing.
As he walks me to the car outside the hotel, he remarks for the second time, with a look of concern on his face, that I look tired, and says he will say a prayer. Then he scurries to his car boot and gives me seven small candles he uses in his healing, to light for each day of the week, and a card with is healing prayer on it.
I go home and forget all about the candles, but I've kept the prayer card in my purse, just in case...