"I see the souls of the dead and they send messages for loved ones left behind"
Bestselling author Lorna Byrne not only claims she can see angels, but explains why she visited heaven ...and was sent back
A couple of days before I went to Kilkenny in the rain to meet Lorna Byrne, an item came on the radio about compelling new scientific evidence of life after death. In the largest ever medical study carried out on the subject, scientists found that cardiac patients experienced real events in the operating theatre for up to three minutes after flat-lining - and could recall them accurately once they had been resuscitated.
I have a friend, another writer, who tried desperately to resuscitate her teenage son after he attempted suicide two years ago. Although paramedics found a faint heartbeat, he was pronounced dead four days later. His mother (I'll call her May) had also heard about this research and asked to come with me to see Lorna, the bestselling author of Love From Heaven, her fourth chart-topper since her 2008 memoir, Angels In My Hair.
Lorna's second personal near-death experience - after some stomach surgery went wrong a decade ago - went far beyond the operating theatre, right into "God's library" in heaven: "so beautiful and so full of love you don't want to come back".
May wanted to hear more, and offered to drive and to bring lunch, so the tiny mystic ended up being grilled by the two of us for over three and a half hours. She was well able for it, calm and quietly assured throughout, and never contradicting herself or getting muddled. (I'm well aware she has been dismissed as a "supernatural quack", among other judgemental barbs, but there is no denying her sincerity in person.)
As May and I are both tall, Lorna has to stand on tip-toes in her fluffy slippers to greet us with a delicate hug at the doorway to her farmhouse, which stands at the top of a narrow country road.
A widowed mother of four, she's petite but curvy in her Levi's and scoop-neck top, and she looks younger than her 61 years, with only a few smile lines on her fair skin. There are gold glints in her thick shoulder-length bob and she has a slightly distant look, at times, in her wide-set green eyes.
As she explains when we press her, there are distractions: "The room is full of angels; some of them are mimicking you writing in your note-books. I have to try to ignore them and keep my eyes trained on you! I see them as your guardian angels - they're different - as a pillar of light behind you. They haven't opened up in the full glory yet. They only usually do that to draw attention to something that I need to pray for."
But we're not really here to talk about angels.
It's the run up to Halloween and All Souls Day - and we're interested in something darker.
So, over tea served in blue-willow china mugs, we settle under the rafters in a comfortable L-shaped sofa to talk about the dead. It would have been spookier by the wide brick fireplace in the dark, but broad daylight is spilling through the shuttered windows in the white-walled converted barn. Nevertheless, I get a shiver up my spine when Lorna describes "a soul" coming to her door three days beforehand, who fits the description of May's son.
"I see souls a lot," she says softly, her Dublin/Kildare brogue mild. "God allows them to come back to the grieving to comfort them. They also give signs - I'm told you have missed some, May.
"Your son is not here now; I won't lie to you. But you can feel his presence and you will meet him again. You also might see him again a long time from now, to reassure you he's ok. He has met all those who have died before him, in a human way, so he can recognise them, but souls are a speck or a spark of light from God, and they are perfect."
Old Catholic doctrine ruled that suicides could not be buried in consecrated ground and could not go to heaven. Lorna reassured my deeply grieving colleague that this was not true. She is often contacted by troubled youths, as is evident on-line from the multitudes who have credited her with helping to change their lives, and is on a mission to set up a charity for the young to help - among other issues - prevent suicide, a growing scourge in modern Ireland.
"There is always a place for them in heaven," she says. "The guardian angel will do everything in its power to stop the person from taking their own life but it can't override free will. They spend a huge amount of time trying to guide us though.
"Most of the young people who commit suicide don't mean to end their lives permanently. I know your son didn't mean it, May, and he was meant to grow up. Drugs and alcohol interfere in our choices and actions. He wouldn't have done it if he hadn't taken the drugs."
May is teary but comforted. She takes out her phone and shows Lorna a photo of her son.
"I'm raging I didn't know him and I will tell God that," she smiles. "Loss of a child can harden a person; it's very hard on a marriage. But you cannot change it; it has happened. You have got to accept it and reach out to others. God didn't want it to happen to your son but no-one can take away our free will. You can't blame God for every bad thing that happens."
I notice Lorna refers to souls rather than ghosts. What about these "stuck" ones, the earth-bound spirits supposedly haunting houses and scaring the living daylights out of people (including a few I know).
"Sometimes that's the other side playing with people, to scare them, but sometimes souls are sent back for a reason. I see them as I see you, in 3D, but they have a light around them.
"There is nothing bad in a soul coming back. They are as likely to be in shopping centres as graveyards, if that's what you're wondering." (May was).
"I remember a young man appearing in a graveyard in Dublin when I walked past his grave," she adds. "He asked me, 'Do you think they know I didn't mean it?' He told me he was just so silly; he'd gone out on his motorbike years before without his helmet and had gone far too fast and crashed. His parents were worried about him. He's around his mum a lot."
A serenely positive person, Lorna won't be drawn on "the other side". She simply doesn't wish to give evil the oxygen of publicity and focus it thrives on.
She would rather talk about Archangel Michael who, eight years ago, persuaded her to start writing the series of books about angels and love that have now been published in more than 50 countries and 20 languages.
Although many of the reviewers are incredulous of the metaphysical phenomena she claims to have experienced, the vast majority have praised her direct, simply written narrative, its natural flow and positive message.
While May makes calls, Lorna takes me upstairs to her small office overlooking her grandchildren's three swings in the garden, to show me where she writes via a voice-activated computer.
Dyslexic, she was initially flummoxed by the order from on-high to write books, but came to accept that's her purpose - and why she was sent back from heaven twice.
"The first time was when I had a miscarriage and accompanied my baby to heaven," she says so softly I have to incline my head to hear her. "The second time it was a big operation. I didn't want to come back - why would I to all those aches and pains? I was complete there.
"But I knew I had to come back, not just to write my books. I didn't want to and I protested but I was sent back for a reason."
I notice an Aer Lingus Gold Circle membership card on her crowded desk. She's constantly flying all over the world to talks and book signings, where she is mobbed.
Many of those who approach her are keen to tell of their own near-death experiences. (Some have even flown thousands of miles to her former home in Maynooth, expecting to stay with her; hence her request that I don't give the exact address of her home now).
"Doctors also tell me about them," she says. "At a children's hospital I visited they have countless records going back years of children describing experiences after they had been declared dead, of seeing the medical team working on them, and of an angel taking them to heaven and being sent back."
So what did she see up there?
"Well, I didn't see any pearly gates! I can't compare heaven to life here - no, there are jobs, cars, houses, no walls. It is infinite. Even the spiral staircase and the library I talk about in my books are so incredible they are beyond description. We humans cannot make anything of beauty like that."
She has her own unusual beauty. I wonder what she puts on her skin and she brings me into her simply furnished bedroom to see for myself: Boots No 7 serum and a Clinique moisturiser.
There is a selection of crystals in the deep-set window-sill - "presents from different people", she says with a hint of a raised eyebrow. Likewise, the one print in the house of an angel was a gift. It seems that the writer prefers Irish landscapes on her white walls and family photos on the antique dresser and upright piano in the open-plan dining/living room.
She loves to walk in the great outdoors and wishes that parents of young children nowadays would get them out on the air to play and "to feel the cold", away from their computer games and consoles. We can feel God in nature, she believes - and she knows because He said so ...
"Yes, I have seen God," she says, as we go back down the wide wooden staircase. "As a presence He is enormous and indescribable - there are really no words invented to describe Him - but He gives himself a human form we can recognise.
"One time I was there I played under the Tree of Life - I climbed over these enormous roots but I wasn't hurt or cold or anything, and I walked across sand that was warm and soft and sparkling - it's very hard to describe but the grains were one particle. Then I played with Jesus as a boy. We had great fun rolling down a hill."
She knows this sounds like utterly bizarre.
"Of course, people laugh at me and say I'm away with the fairies," she says breezily, with a wave of her little hand. "But I just remember how many lives I have changed, and that a person who is critical and cynical is just angry and hurt inside.
"You see, we must learn to love ourselves. You cannot truly love a husband or a child unless you love yourself - your soul. Look at yourself without loathing, love yourself warts and all, and you will become kinder and more loving and compassionate.
"It's not very Irish to love yourself but it feels good - and helping others feels good, even just to smile at them."
She is interrupted briefly by her daughter calling from Dublin. She tells her "Love you lots - remember what I told you".
"The kids are very good at listening," Lorna tells us after hanging up. "When my first book was published, they were all, 'Now we get it! That's how you know everything, we can't hide anything from you'."
"Friends don't always listen to me in the same way. I tell them when they should go to the doctor - one didn't and he left it too late. He was afraid, but he had lived life to the full, and I know he had nothing to fear.
"God has shown me someone who died going through a tunnel, just as many have described. It happens so quickly. The soul always ends in front of God in complete peace. There is no fear."
Lorna's husband Joe died in 2000 at 47 - "exactly as I was told by the angels he would before I met him" - after years of ill-health. She has written of seeing his soul leaving his body and being taken away by his guardian angel, and of him coming back to visit once and embracing her. It reminded me of a scene from Ghost, except Lorna didn't need Whoopi Goldberg to feel her late husband's arms around her.
Apparently we can all feel the presence of loved ones that have passed on, particularly on the feast of All Souls Day tomorrow.
"It's important to remember the dead, especially on this day - not just your own loved ones but all the people who have died in wars and tragedies. The souls of those who died in the Troubles up there don't want revenge, by the way. They want people to live in peace.
"We can reach out to them on All Souls Day and we can feel them around on that day. They can give signs - something you are drawn to in a newspaper or magazine, a song you hear all the time, advice you're given, a tap on the shoulder and your hands go cold. And that inner voice you can hear - even just, 'better rinse that cloth one more time' - the instinctive voice comes from your guardian angel, no matter how small and insignificant.
"And if you feel you have to say something to someone, or phone someone, do it. If you don't you'll regret it. When you listen to your intuition things fall into place and it makes life easier."
Although I have dozens more questions, it's my instinct to get on the potentially flooded roads before dark. May is given some parting words of comfort and a signed copy of Love From Heaven, with a private message direct, apparently, from her son.
My copy is signed 'Una, Angels with you, Blessings, Love, Healing, Peace, Hope - Lorna.'
I'll take that, even if I never see one.
- Love From Heaven by Lorna Byrne is published by Coronet, £9.99. Visit www.lornabyrne.com
Lorna's journey from poverty to the bestsellers list
Lorna Fitzgerald Byrne was born into a poor family in Dublin in March 1955.
As she went on to write in 2008, she could see and communicate with angels as physically as the rest of us see someone standing in front of us.
Her lack of interest in the material world led to concerns about her health, and she was diagnosed as being "retarded". In 1971, while helping her father in the garage he ran, Lorna met Joe, the man she said Angel Elijah had foretold she would marry. Married life was hard; Joe suffered from serious ill health and was unable to work much of the time. The couple and their four children lived in poverty. In 2000, as foretold, Joe died, leaving Lorna alone with four children, the youngest just five years old.
Lorna worked as a cleaner to make ends meet. Through prayer meetings, she gained a reputation for her spirituality, and as her children grew older, word spread and many started to visit her, seeking healing or wisdom.
As she discloses in her book, Angels In My Hair, from a very early age the angels told Lorna that she would write a book about them. Despite her reluctance to do so, due to dyslexia, she began to work on the book in 2003 and met a woman, by chance, who helped her get it finished and published. In May 2008, Angels in my Hair was published in the UK and Ireland.
Now an international bestseller, it has been translated into 26 languages and has been published in more than 50 countries.
Lorna's second book, Stairways to Heaven, is also an international bestseller. A Message of Hope from the Angels, Lorna's third book, is a Sunday Times number 1 bestseller. Her current bestseller, Love From Heaven, has also topped the book charts, and following a US book deal, there are more in the pipeline.