Irish mystic Lorna Byrne talks to angels. You may or may not believe her, but there’s one thing that’s in no doubt -- she’s not kidding. Angels In My Hair, Byrne’s memoir, is now an international bestseller that sold for a six-figure sum to the publishers of The Da Vinci Code, but she doubts all the money in the world will change her.
When you’re talking to someone who looks over your shoulder to greet an invisible angel it’s an eerie sensation.
But Lorna Byrne talks to the angels as casually as others might turn to speak to someone new in a pub. It’s odd to be in the presence of someone who’s conversing with invisible beings -- and it’s odd how quickly you can get used to it, too.
Adding to the strangeness of meeting her is the fact that Byrne doesn’t really look like the kind of person you’d expect angels to confide in. At 58 she’s slim, youthful and attractive, in enviable shape for her years. She’s also only five foot tall, which accentuates her girlishness.
As mystics go, she’s not exactly a textbook example. But the lingering sadness around her penetrating eyes hints at her difficult childhood and her early adult life.
Byrne grew up in poverty in the grim Ballymun and Edenmore council estates in Dublin, and she lost her young husband Joe to illness early on. Byrne’s supporters, who include famous names like Irish singing star Daniel O’Donnell, have total faith in her vision and have made her book a bestseller.
But her detractors have written that she’s a “despicable person who makes mountains of cash by selling complete nonsense to idiots.”
A recent poll in Time magazine showed that 69 percent of Americans claim to believe in angels. With those kinds of odds it would appear Byrne has her work cut out for her.
But what exactly does she see? We meet last week in the swanky foyer of the Ace Hotel in midtown Manhattan, a place I selected for its air conditioning and because it was the least likely setting for a discussion about the world to come.
“I see angels here,” she says flatly. “I see the light of the Guardian Angel behind you. Even walking down the street I see them.
“From the moment I opened my eyes as a child I can never remember not seeing angels. When I was tiny I didn’t know what they were at first. They were gorgeous and friendly, and I wasn’t afraid of them in the least.”
Why her, though? Out of all the billions of people in the world, why chose a girl with learning difficulties who lived in poverty in Dublin?
“I actually don’t know,” says Byrne. “I’ve asked God and the angels why me -- an ordinary person, uneducated, with learning difficulties. I was considered retarded as a child and I don’t know why God chose me. I give out all the time. They told me to say, ‘Why not you?’”
All right then, they chose her. So what does it look like to see the world through her eyes?
“The first thing I always see is the light of a Guardian Angel behind everyone.” Byrne nods at a young man who is waking toward the hotel’s exit: “I see an angel walking with him. It’s just natural for me to see them.”
Guardian Angels don’t open up completely for her, Byrne explains, because it would be too much.
“They’re brighter than any other angel. If I was walking down the street and the light of everyone’s Guardian Angel was open it would blind me. It would be too much to take in.”
Well now that we know what it looks like, what does it feel like? She looks surprised by the question.
“I’ve never actually thought of this. People always ask me what it looks like. It feels normal because I don’t know anything else,” she replies.
“Sometime you get a sensation or a smell. That would happen sometimes with the soul of my husband (who has passed on). He would come in around and sometimes I would get the smell of smoke because he would smoke cigarettes. But the angels would usually tell me he’s coming in advance.”
Byrne says that when she was a child an angel named Elijah told her that her husband would pass away before they grew old together.
“I said to him, why did you have to tell me that? It was very hard emotionally because the day I first set my eyes on him I was already in love with him, even though I didn’t want him to get the job,” Byrne recalls.
“I was so excited. It was because of what I knew -- that he would become ill. That was heartbreaking because I couldn’t tell him.”
It’s no secret that the Catholic Church is nervous of visionaries, but Byrne says she has never received an order to stop.
“I’ve had priests and nuns coming to me all my life. Just to talk to me. They have said nothing bad about me in the papers and the magazines. They have spoken very highly. I suppose that’s an acceptance in one way.”