Meet Lorna Byrne: She claims to see angels (including one that patrols the Irish border), comforts the bereaved and sell millions of books and is in Belfast for show
Ahead of an event in the city tomorrow, Irish mystic Lorna Byrne tells Una Brankin why she believes our late loved ones are especially close to us during Christmas and what she really thinks of her critics
The critics of Lorna Byrne range from those who accuse her of charlatanism to those convinced she is mentally ill and prone to delusions. Her well-written accounts of being transported by angels to 'God's library', of being given a vision of a scary robotics-dominated future, of playing with Jesus as a child, and of being reunited with the soul of her late husband to name just a few examples, have been roundly scorned by sceptics.
Her millions of readers don't care. One of Ireland's bestselling authors, Lorna's latest - Angels At My Fingertips - reached number one in the Irish book charts and number four on the Sunday Times bestseller list in the UK this year.
Her previous books, based on what she describes as her constant communication with angels (Angels In My Hair, Stairways To Heaven, A Message Of Hope From The Angels, Love From Heaven and The Year With Angels), have been published in more than 50 countries and translated into 30 languages.
With that level of success, it's no wonder that her detractors don't hurt her: "It doesn't bother me one bit whatsoever - I feel love and compassion for them and hope that they will find that love within themselves," she says.
"What I do is not about me - it's about you. I think the reason for the angels showing me the scene of the birth of Jesus wasn't for me; it was actually for everyone in the world to know about it and to have love and compassion within ourselves and on into the year, to remember that innocent child born at this time of year."
Not all her reviewers in the media have been critical; many have praised her simple messages of hope and the need to spread love.
But there will be a few raised eyebrows at her claim that a special "angel of Northern Ireland" patrols the border.
It is something she says she has discussed with peace broker Senator George Mitchell - "a person of deep faith who genuinely cares about the north" - at his offices in New York.
"The angel of Northern Ireland is separate from the south. God has appointed it for Northern Ireland, which is very significant," she says over a Skype call from her converted barn home in Kilkenny.
"The angel does all it can to restore love and to help people to keep the peace, and it is helping guide the Government to focus on the most important things - peace and jobs.
"Every nation has its own angel and they report directly to God. How can I describe it? It is massive and full of light, and it walks with such compassion, yet authority. I can see it walking from one side of Northern Ireland to the other, along an invisible border."
It's a mind-boggling proposition. And it begs the question: where was this huge loving entity during the Troubles?
"The angel was there," she says without hesitation. "Even as a kid, I saw it, a long, long, time ago. It cannot interfere with free will but it has helped to change people's hearts, people with hatred bred into them since they were children.
"When you reach out to others and help someone, that is what life is about. There has been so much suffering in Ireland. I know, though, that the guardian angel wraps its arms around the soul of someone who is physically suffering, before the body dies, and takes it straight to Heaven."
She'll be expanding on these themes at her sold-out 'In Conversation With' event in Belfast tomorrow afternoon. I've been at one of these gatherings in the past. As well as hosting a Q&A with Lorna in Belfast tomorrow, I've also interviewed her on three occassions.
She holds her mainly female audience spellbound and blesses them individually afterwards, if they request it. Their devotion is remarkable. Many are bereaved and seeking reassurance that Heaven exists.
According to Lorna, the dead are very near.
"Around Christmas especially, the departed loved ones are right there with you because they don't want you to be sad; they want you to be happy," she emphasises.
"By just thinking of them you connect; everyone connects in a different way. You don't set a place for them at the dinner table but they are in your heart and you speak of them, like remembering someone loved a special pudding.
"You remember the things they loved at Christmas-time, that is a way of connecting with them."
Contrary to her Catholic Church's teachings, she believes that certain genuine mediums or psychics are able to connect with souls. "I think they can but the main person it happens with is you, yourself," she adds. "The angels have never really said anything to me about it. It's mainly through yourself, or sometimes someone can say something to you that reminds you of your loved one, but that is actually a message for you.
"A soul of a loved one will often leave a sign as well. It could be a photograph you find that you hadn't seen in years. Or somebody will say something to you that you know your loved one would have said. That's a sign, too."
No such thing as coincidence, then?
"It's natural to try to rationalise everything," she concedes. "The more open we become to the fact that there is so much beyond our existence on Earth, the clearer the path becomes."
Interestingly, Dublin-born Lorna is against medical intervention to prolong life in the gravely ill when the body is unable to support it alone. In a similar vein, she warns against the dangers that could come with medical advances to create technology to replace parts of the brain.
As she claims: "The angels gave me vision of a future where I saw people with these mechanisms embedded in their heads. It was frightening, but we have a choice of futures, and we can choose not to go down this road.
"Medical intervention can go too far. Like, when someone's mortally injured in a car crash and cannot naturally recover, of course they are put on life support for a chance of survival, but it keeps them in pain if they are not going to come back.
"I know of an 18-month-old toddler who fell into a bucket of water and was pronounced dead half-an-hour later. Understandably, the family wanted him resuscitated instead of letting him go, and he was. But that little child is brain-damaged and in great pain now. It is so sad."
As for the families of those afflicted by dementia, for example, Lorna has a comforting message.
"They're not really trapped in their body the way we think they are," she asserts. "You have to remember, they're not crazy and to just love them and go to see them, even if it's just for a moment, even if they don't recognise you or tell you to go away. It's the brain that has become diseased, not the soul. Remember them as the person they were. Their guardian angel is holding onto them; it will never leave them, or any of us."
Among Lorna's famous fans are Majella O'Donnell (Daniel's wife) and Gloria Hunniford, whose faith in God and angels never wavered despite the death of her daughter Caron at 41. Incredibly, Lorna goes on to tell me how terminally ill children communicate to her that they are not afraid of death.
"It is so sad when a child dies; it tears a mother apart," she remarks.
"We're born to live, but we're born to die as well. The soul is perfect in every way. It's the body that falters and dies. We all get sick in some way or grow old.
"I've met children who are dying and they've said to me: 'Tell Mam and Dad it's okay, Lorna'. Very young children have only just come from Heaven.
"They don't want to hurt their parents by leaving them but they know death is not the end. All I can do is to tell the mother and father to spend as much time as they possibly can with the child."
Having travelled the world this year with her charity, The Lorna Byrne Children's Foundation, she is taking some time to edit a prayer book, which will include some of her thoughts and other-worldly experiences between the prayers. She's also working on prayers for children.
"I'm flabbergasted by the success of the books. I'm not educated and I can't read very well - that limits me in some ways, yet it has enabled me to be open in other ways. So many people have told me their lives have been changed by reading the books," she says.
"A young man stopped me on the street recently - he had been an alcoholic and a drug addict living on the street, and I'd spoken to him a few times. I told him to go home; that his mam and dad loved him.
"Now he's a married man with a lovely wife and kids and a job. He said his life had been transformed when he read Angels In My Hair. I didn't recognise him at first; it took me a few seconds. It's so positive when you see someone's life changed like that."
Lorna will be in conversation with Una Brankin and answering questions from the audience at the Wellington Park Hotel in Belfast tomorrow from 2pm-5pm. All proceeds go to the Lorna Byrne Children's Foundation. www.lornabyrne.com
Heavenly bodies 'join our festive celebrations'
My first Christmas I remember was in Old Kilmainham in Dublin. I was very small, maybe two or three years of age, and the little fire was ablaze when I walked down into the room with my sister. The room was full of angels, and my bedroom was full of angels, because there was a little present on the end of the bed.
The angels celebrate Christmas with us all. I saw them around the Christmas tree and there were angels standing by the crib, an angel by the fire and there was another angel by the garage door that would have led out to my dad's workshop.
There are Christmas Angels - they do loads of things all the time, whispering in people's ears. Some have little bells and they ring them, and when that happens I would see children responding to the spirit of Christmas. These are special angels that come from Heaven at this time of year because the gates of Heaven are open a little bit more. Those angels bring beautiful balls of light that they drop onto every home.
I am spending Christmas with my family. My sons, daughters and the children all chip in and play their part for the Christmas dinner, even for the cleaning up.
The kids even help with the tidying and it's done joyously.
A drop of red wine is what I like but don't ask me the name!