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My father was a civil servant in Dublin and on summer holidays he wanted to get as far away as possible from his boss who lived on our estate, in case he was called back to work over the break. We loaded everything into the car and drove the mammoth day-long journey to the other end of the country, arriving exhausted in the dead of night, waking to the mystery of new surroundings in the morning.

In the cottage in Skibbereen, my father slept in on Sunday mornings while we children got up and ran about by ourselves. He sent us into the village to buy the paper. When we came back, he grabbed us and rubbed his itchy-scratchy face against ours. It was great, we loved it. Ugh! Then we had a cooked breakfast.

One morning we got up early and left the cottage. My mother came out shortly afterwards searching for us up and down the lane but we were gone. The next thing was, she looked out at the lake and saw the three of us out on the fishing boat in the middle of the lake with Bob, the farmer who rented us the cottage!

She must have had a heart attack seeing us on the lake with no life jackets or anything. We were very young at the time; my youngest sister must have been about two or three. Bob might have had a drink problem because the next year he wasn’t around. Maybe that was why we were so bold when we returned the following year because we missed him.

We sat in the dirt for hours gorging on the strawberries in the fields then we couldn’t eat our tea. We threw stones in the barrel for the potato spray by a wall at the back of the farm. The new farmer complained to our mother who gave out to us for throwing stones in the spray.

I enjoyed throwing the rocks in the barrel competing with my middle sister, to see who could make the biggest splash.

I used to wonder why the farmer complained to my mother or ‘ratted’ on us, as I would call it later, but we were wasting the spray – it was no big mystery.

We didn’t bother coming back the next year.

The place wasn’t as well kept and my mother didn’t want us around the ‘bad influence’ of a drinker.

Dad must have liked West Cork. He probably visited when he moved to Cobh with Una after they got married. The MOD transferred him from Dublin to the naval base on Haulbowline Island, which was how I ended up being born in Cobh general hospital and baptised in Saint Colman’s cathedral, although we returned to settle in Dublin six months later.

On hot days, we drove to the seaside in Dad’s powder blue Vauxhall Viva, the hot leatherette of the car seats uncomfortably sticky on our bare legs, hurtling past the blooming hedgerows of ivy, fuchsia and lilies, bustling with vibrant avian life.
The grassed-over potato beds and hard-working gorse on the hillsides, testified to our troubled past.

Swallows swooped and darted as we followed the track to the beach, deserted except for German tourists horse-racing in the surf.

There we set up camp for the day, swimming in the sea or hunting in the rock pools for fish abandoned by the departing tide and other marvels wonders of that underwater world.

Read memories of Ireland like these every week in Ireland’s Own

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John Gallagher recalls the mysterious disappearance of Lord Lucan in 1974

The title Earl of Lucan was first held by Patrick Sarsfield, the acclaimed Irish military leader. However, it is the more controversial story of the 7th Earl of Lucan, John Bingham, that continues to weave a web of intrigue.

In November, 1974, John Bingham, the aforementioned 7th Earl of Lucan, left a friend’s house in Uckfield, Sussex, England, and was never seen again.

The police, along with the coastal authorities organised a series of intensive searches throughout the land including the sea channel routes to France, all without success. His whereabouts to this day remains an intriguing mystery.

The fact that the Earl was present when his children’s nanny, Sandra Rivitt, was bludgeoned to death on the night of 7th November, 1974, in the basement of his London’s Belgravia home, made him a prime suspect. Scotland Yard speedily issued a warrant for his arrest. But where was the Earl?

At the inquest held shortly after Sandra Rivitt’s death, the coroner named Lord Lucan as her murderer. It was the last occasion in Britain that a coroner’s court was permitted to make such a decision.  

John Bingham was born in London in 1934 and following his education at Eton College, he joined a leading London bank as a trainee banker. His extraordinary skill as a card player saw his spending a great deal of his time at gambling clubs and casinos. Such was his talent and ability that he resigned from his banking career and became a professional gambler.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own (issue 5611)

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Michael Tanner recalls how a far-removed Irish village on Ireland’s west coast prospered when Hollywood director David Lean chose Dingle to be the backdrop to the famous story of love, lust and betrayal that became Ryan’s Daughter.

Ryan’s Daughter first brought me to Dingle.

More importantly, the Oscar-winning film of 1970 brought prosperity to the people of Dingle and its eponymous peninsula. By the time location shooting ended on 24th February, 1970, a year to the day after commencing, £1m to £3m had been spent in this isolated region of Ireland. New cars, kitchens and bathrooms sprouted like mushrooms among a populace suddenly and rapidly introduced to 20th century consumerism.

David Lean was to thank for this unexpected largesse. He may have started his directing career with smaller intimate films such as Brief Encounter and Dickens adaptations like Great Expectations but when his cameras began rolling on Ryan’s Daughter in 1969 his name was synonymous with sprawling multi Oscar-winning epics such as Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago.

Making films on this gigantic scale in the days before CGI meant spending money like there was no tomorrow. Lean demanded locations that illuminated his stories; genuine deserts and true wastelands.

Ryan’s Daughter had begun life as the ‘love child’ of screenwriter Robert Bolt for his actress wife Sarah Miles, but Lean was determined to stage this tale of love and betrayal against a backdrop of wild grandeur. Cue Corca Dhuibhne.
Lean’s two right-hand men, Peter Dukelow (construction) and Eddie Fowlie (location), ran their rule over Sicily, Sardinia and the Shetland Isles before settling on the Dingle peninsula.

Continue reading in this year’s June Summer Special (issue 5607)

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Head of Forecasting at Met Éireann, Gerald Fleming, tells Brian Farrington about the different trends of Irish summers, and shares some summer memories of his own.

Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight; swallows flying high, sunshine nearby, but swallows flying low, rain down below, and as for falling soot and frogs changing colour…well now!!

Irish people have long fancied themselves as amateur weather forecasters, and being able to predict the weather simply by looking at changes to the environment around them is a part of their ‘climatic’ skillsets. But is there any truth to these old tell-tale weather signs? There is and there isn’t, says Head of Forecasting at Met Éireann and popular TV weather forecaster, Gerald Fleming.  

“There is often a truth contained within these old sayings,” explains Gerald, “in terms of the short-term weather forecast (next day or so) when changes can be inferred from cloud patterns or the behaviour of animals, birds or marine creatures. They are just reacting to changes which they can sense – and which we can now measure with instrumentation.

“What I do not have any belief in is the old lore that tries to connect nature with longer term predictions, such as that a lot of red berries in the autumn means a harsh winter etc etc. I don’t know of any mechanism whereby nature can ‘anticipate’ the longer changes in the weather; the weather patterns are much more complex than that!”
Gerald has been analysing and reporting on the Irish weather long enough to have seen many different types of Irish summers. And while he agrees global climate change is a reality which has been well written about, he says that the change to Irish weather trends will be very gradual.

Continue reading in this year’s June Summer Special (issue 5607)

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Dominic Behan singing at a folk session, Enterprise Public House, Long Acre, London, c1959. Folk club session during the folk revival of the late 1950s and early 1960s. In the background are folk musicians Peggy Seeger, Ewan MacColl and AL Lloyd. (Photo by EFD SS/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

Dominic Behan, brother of hell-raising author, Brendan, was the writer of many great songs. Here we explore the story of the younger Behan, and his song, McAlpine’s Fusiliers.

Ask anyone about Dominic Behan and probably the best answer that you would receive would be that he was Brendan Behan’s brother.

dominicbehanOf course, Brendan Behan was a genius of a playwright and author. He was also a brawling, boozing broth of a bhoy and stage Irishman. He was lionised by the Establishment despite claiming to detest them. His mythic legacy was enhanced by his tragic and untimely death at the age of 41, in 1964.

What of Dominic Behan?

Dominic was born into the multi – talented Behan family in Dublin in 1928. Like his brothers and father, he worked as a house painter before moving to London where he wrote radio scripts for the BBC as well as writing some of the songs for which he is remembered, including McAlpine’s Fusiliers.

Later, Christy Moore and The Dubliners, among many other illustrious names, would count him as one of their strongest influences.

On her wonderful collaboration album with Ronnie Drew (A Couple More Years, 2000) Eleanor Shanley says, somewhat kindly, that Bob Dylan was greatly influenced by Irish music. Dominic Behan was less kind, publicly accusing Dylan of plagiarism.

Continue reading in this year’s June Summer Special (issue 5607)

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CANADA - MAY 31: British author Tim Severin with a model of a leather boat; named for Brendan the Bold; he sailed 4;000 miles across the Atlantic. (Photo by Dick Loek/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Could St. Brendan have beaten Columbus to America? Forty years ago, Tim Severin found out if it was possible, writes Jim Rees.

Tim Severin has been an ‘epic’ historian or archaeologist for over forty years. He takes historical stories, often little more than vague folklore, and recreates the equipment needed to put the truth of these tales to the test. Could they have really happened, using only the skills, knowledge and materials available to the mythical protagonists?

Since the 1960s, Severin has relived the voyages of Sinbad the Sailor, Jason of the Argo, Ulysses and Marco Polo, turning established theory on its head. But the adventure which concerns us here is his ‘Brendan Voyage’.

Discussions over who was the first European to set foot on the American continent invariably brings forth the names of Christopher Columbus and the Viking Leif Ericson. While written records show that Columbus did arrive in South America in 1492, it is now generally agreed that Eric beat him to it by 500 years, as evidenced by Viking remains in Newfoundland and even further west.

But even if Eric got there before Columbus, he was still quite a way behind the 6th century Irish monk St. Brendan – at least according to Irish folklore and an account of his voyages, Navigatio Brendanii, written a couple of centuries later.
 When Severin learned of the Brendan story, he was determined to see if a boat made from cowhide lashed to a wooden frame – in fact, a large currach – really could have crossed the Atlantic a thousand years before Columbus.

Continue reading in this year’s June Summer Special (issue 5607)

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Johnny has difficulty getting over losing the love of his life, when a stranger arrives at his front door…

By Sean Cottrell

I grew up with Johnny Cross and believe me no more honest man walked the face of the earth. So, the story I am going to tell you is true because Johnny told me himself.
There wasn’t enough living on the family farm to give two men a livelihood so, he took himself over to England. He was handy with tools and had no difficulty getting work on the buildings there and when his parents died he came home and took over the farm and he had his work cut out there for him I can tell you, his poor father, God rest him, had let it go somewhat.

Then he set his cap at Margaret Dempsey who was a distant cousin of my own. In fact I had my eye on her myself but while I was pondering the pros and cons of such a thing he stole her from under my nose. In any case it wasn’t too long before we were sitting down to the wedding breakfast and there was a look of love, peace and contentment about the pair of them that would gladden your heart.

the-grief-angelThey’d been married about five years and everything in the garden was rosy when one Saturday morning Margaret sent him off to town with a shopping list a mile long. He was loading the car with the essentials when he was persuaded by some lads to go for a quick drink. One drink led to another and it was hours before Johnny set out for home. On the road home he smiled, thinking of how Margaret would tease him for his stay in the pub. He arrived to find his beautiful wife stretched out an the floor, icy cold. The doctor said she’d had a massive heart attack.

Now, there is such a thing as the grieving process but Johnny took this to extremes. He moped around the house. He milked the cows, went to the creamery and did the bare essentials to keep the animals alive and well. The same could not be said for himself or the house. Several of the neighbouring women came and tried to feed him and maybe do a bit of straightening up here and there to help him out but, they soon gave up due to his rudeness. By now he was a ragged individual, isolated and lonely. He’d lost so much weight the clothes hung on him and he never smiled. It was as if the old Johnny had retired and was not interested in making a comeback.

As his friend I thought I should be able to help or at least be a sympathetic listener, but I was quickly made aware that, not only was I out of my depth, I was no longer welcome in a house where once I was always sure of a cup of tea and a friendly chat.
Johnny swore the house was haunted. He claimed to hear thunder most nights, even on nights when there was frost being laid on the ground. He claimed to hear lots of people talking at night but he couldn’t see any of them.

Betwixt and between, the poor man was getting no sleep at all.

He went to see the priest who assured him there was no such thing as ghosts and it was all imagination, but he was persuaded to visit. He said a few prayers, scattered some Holy Water here and there to no avail.

It was about a year later that Johnny answered a knock on the door. There was a beautiful young lady there, tall, slim, blonde hair and sparkling blue eyes. She was wearing a spotlessly clean white dress with a narrow belt and gold coloured sandals which matched the belt.

“God bless all here,” she said. “Is the woman of the house available for a minute.”
“There’s no woman here,” Johnny told her and he set about closing the door in her face.

    “Then I’ve come to the right house,” she said. “Could I trouble you for a drink of water. I have travelled a fair distance and I’m parched.”

The right house? What did she mean by that? But, he’d refuse nobody a drink and he headed for the kitchen. She followed and as his search for a clean glass proved fruitless she took over and rinsed out a cup and filled it with water.

She raised her eyebrows at him, silently asking if he wanted a drink, but, on getting no response she drank about half, then sat down.

That left Johnny standing in front of her and if he thought that was a superior situation he had another think coming.

She was cool out altogether, you’d think she owned the place. Johnny, being a naturally quiet man, and respectful of women, wondered how he was ever going to get her out of the house.

“I have been told you needed help in letting go of your grief,” she told him.
Johnny reared up at that. “In God’s name woman, who are you?” he wanted to know, “and what brings you to my house with your offers of help. I don’t need any help. And I’ll grieve in my own way if you don’t mind. Now get out.”

She made no move but cast her eyes around the kitchen. Johnny’s eyes seemed to travel the same route hers were taking. He noticed, almost for the first time, the chaotic state of the place and he suddenly felt ashamed to be caught amid such dirt and grime before a stranger. For the first time since he buried Margaret he felt self conscious about himself and mortified by the way he treated people who tried to help him.

“Of course. No help required,” she said, the words dripping sarcasm.

She stood up and turned to go, gave him a lingering look over her shoulder and began to walk slowly to the door. When she got there she turned and said, “Johnny, if you do not accept help you will join your Margaret much sooner than you should.”

“Hold steady a minute,” Johnny called. “Come back here and explain yourself. How do you know so much about me and Margaret and what kind of help are we talking about here?”

She took a couple of steps forward and put a hand on Johnny’s arm. “If I told you everything I know and how I know it, you wouldn’t believe me. So, let us take a little time and work together to brighten up this lovely house. There will be time enough for explanations later.”

She ordered Johnny out of the house. “You have chores to do out there,” she told him. When he returned the place was gleaming like never before and there was a wonderful aroma of cooking. The table was set with the good china, and a smell of meat cooking. On the table were all kinds of fancy cakes and buns. It was like a child’s birthday party. The place was filled with the smell of fresh bread and spices. Johnny was ordered to clean himself up and when he returned to the kitchen, his face was shaved and shining and his wedding suit on him.

The dinner was the best he’d had since Margaret departed. She poured the tea, took a freshly baked scone, added a layer of butter and a good dollop of jam and placed it on his side plate.

Whatever else he could say about her he had to admit she could cook.
When the meal was finished, -mind you she didn’t eat too much herself – she settled back in the chair.

“Now Johnny,” she said. “The first thing we have to do is go to the graveyard and lay flowers on the grave and you can talk to Margaret and tell her how you’re are doing and wish her well too.” They did that and Johnny did indeed feel a bit better on the way home and there was more of a spring to his step than usual. Back at the house, the visitor lit the fire and settled into a chair by the warmth. Johnny sat in the opposite side.

“Now Johnny, I think we’ve done enough for today and it is time I was going, but I’ll leave you with a thought. Do you believe in angels?”
“I suppose,” Johnny said, wondering where all this was going. “Sure we’re all supposed to have a guardian angel.”
“Indeed. Goodnight Johnny. Sleep well.” Before the poor man could say another word she was out the door.

Next morning when he got up there was no trace of herself. He began to wonder if it was all a dream or a delusion. He did the necessary chores and went indoors and there she was. He had no sooner taken his cap off when she slapped the full breakfast in front of him.

“Now then,” he said, when he could eat no more, “Last night you said something about angels. What was that about?”
“We have to be accurate. I asked if you believed in Angels.”
“And I said I did.”
“Johnny, I am an angel. At least I was an angel.”

This had to be blasphemy. Johnny stood up, ready to throw her out of the house if necessary. She just sat there and smiled at him.

“Before you decide, let me tell you my story. There are many angels and some are envious of those souls who can go to earth and live a life where they have free will. Only a very few are allowed to do this. I am one who wanted to come here. I’m afraid I made such a nuisance of myself that they agreed to let me come here provided I could find a soul who had passed over and was unable to get on with the process because they were hindered by somebody on this plain holding them back.

“I don’t believe a word of it,” Johnny told her. “I’ve never heard such rubbish in my life. You’re some kind of trickster.”
It was at this point I arrived on the scene. I needed to borrow his tractor as mine was out of commission.

“The very man,” Johnny said. “Come and listen to this yarn. She says she’s an angel,” nodding his head in her direction. “Can you imagine?”
She told us how she came to this earth and how she met Margaret and then came to see Johnny.
“You see,” she said. “I have one year to make an impression here and one year to decide if I want to stay. Johnny is grieving and although it is severe he is also beset with guilt for being in the pub while she was breathing her last.”
“Can you believe that?” Johnny asked me.
“I can. She must be an angel to have got this place back to what it was the last time I saw it. But where she comes from I don’t know.”

 At that she listed a whole load of things that were known only to himself and Margaret, and then followed it up with a list of escapades Johnny and I had almost forgotten. She made believers of us.

Of course, even in an out-of-the-way place like Johnny’s farm it was impossible for a young woman to arrive, cook and clean without being spotted and questions being asked and of course it reached the ear of the parish priest who took a dim view of what was occurring.

I happened to be there when he came to read the riot act to Johnny. Now I have seen strong men brought to their knees when Fr. Dunne got on his high horse but Johnny stood his ground and even went as far as telling him to mind his own business until he was certain of his facts.

While the priest was in the house there was no trace of herself, more’s the pity. I’d have liked to see the two of them argue it out.

After that Johnny moved her in as a housekeeper. Tongues wagged in the parish but most people got on well with her and she was a friend to anybody needing a helping hand and it was no surprise when it was announced that Johnny and herself were to be married.

One day when I called in, Johnny asked if I would be his best man. Of course I agreed. The upshot of it was they were married and in due course had a little girl and what else could they call her but Angela.

Johnny no longer had a need for the Grief Angel but she was invaluable to some folk in the vicinity who had difficulty in letting go of loved ones. Many people referred to her as an angel, not realising how close they were to the truth.

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By Paul McLaughlin

“Tommy, stop acting the eejit and come in here and get your tea”.  My mother has spoken and Daddy has already taken the rolled up newspaper from his forehead that is part of his Dalek impersonation.

“You two are getting ex-ter-min-ated after I get me dinner,” he rattles off staccato-style, and with that he disappears off into the dining room.

It must be Saturday. William Hartnell as the ‘new’ Doctor Who has just met the metal monsters for the first time and our Dad is as big a fan as my brother and I.

victorwThe children’s sci-fi programme is becoming a habit for this 40-something man. Just a few weeks ago he was clicking his cigarette lighter on and off and shouting ‘make fire, make fire’ just like the cavemen the good doctor had met in an earlier episode.
My brother and I laugh at this ‘eejit’ almost constantly. None of our friends has a Dad like him. We wish he didn’t have to work such long hours, but then maybe they have something to do with that wish.

It has been a great day. Friday evening’s pocket money is long gone. Saturday morning found me, as always, in the local sweet shop with a sixpence spent on two comics, the ‘Victor’ and the ‘Hotspur’. Brother Hanley says they are ‘English’ and should be avoided like the Black Death, but our Dad is an ex-Royal Navy man and his stories about the war are always funny and full of jokes.

Footballing hero Gorgeous Gus, Braddock VC and Alf Tupper, the ‘Tough of the Track’, who eats fish suppers before running snobby athletes into the ground, are as real to most Belfast ten-year-olds as anywhere else in country.

When read from cover to tattered cover, both comics will be swapped for the ‘Valiant’ and the ‘Rover’ and Captain Hurricane, Sexton Blake and Wilson the Wonder Athlete will see us half way to another Saturday.

The big day has its own rituals. My mother is obsessed with what she calls the safety of our souls. It is imperative that we go to Confession every Saturday morning and so that is what we do.

Time is spent outside St John’s chapel rehearsing sins, at least three, that will be told to the elderly priest. He is kind and gentle and not at all like some of the others who look fierce and as if they will bite.

I usually settle for telling this grandfatherly old man that I lied, was disobedient and took the Lord’s name in vain. Each week he clears my account with a penance of three Hail Marys. One for each misdemeanour.

It is a wee bit mechanical, but I feel cleansed and a little more safe of soul and ready for Heaven as I head for the afternoon show at the Broadway Cinema. We call it the ‘flicks’ and try to get there as often as money will allow. We buy our sweets, sometimes only a penny’s worth, outside the cinema where they are a lot cheaper and look forward to two and a half hours of darkness transformed by magical light.

Sometimes the Three Stooges, already well into middle age in 1963, will make custard pie throwing an Olympic sport and the Pathe News has just shown us the Beatles in colour for the first time. For some reason, they sound even better than they do in black and white.

And always there is the main feature. The ‘Long Ships’ the ‘Vikings’ and the ‘Fighting Prince of Donegal’ have us on our feet waving imaginary swords and driving on our heroes, choreographed feet stamping like maniacs, until the beam of the usher’s torch brings a sort of subdued silence.

I look back and see the lads in the balcony. They are ‘home boys’ from the reform school near the mountain. Each week we watch as they are herded, sometimes 200 of them, short-trousered and shaven- headed down the Falls Road for their one afternoon out.

They remind me now of the prisoners being marched to the exile ship at the start of the film Papillion.

I feel sorry for them, but my brother wants to know, ‘how come the mitchers get the best seats?”

Saturday is a day for comics, Confession and the cinema and maybe Dad, with a tea towel on his head, imitating the Wolf of Kabul. A happy day.

Read memories like these every week in Ireland’s Own

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By John Macklin

They took little Edouard Cabrero down the street of a strange town and he behaved as though he had come home. They confronted him with people he had never met and he knew their names and greeted them as friends.

His parents wept as he went up to a middle-aged woman in the street and said, “This is my other mother.”

stf-did-this-boy-remember-the-night-he-diedIt seemed, on the face of it, that the impossible had happened. That the personality of another child, whom they never knew, and who is now dead, had taken over the mind of Edouard Cabrero.

Today, Edouard lives in the unclouded world of a nine-year-old with his family in a shabby suburb of Havana, Cuba. He talks repeatedly of his “other life”, of the friends he made and the things he did. He talks, too, of the night he died.

Experts have compiled detailed dossiers of the case, have tested the boy and tried to trick him, but Edouard continues to supply information he could not possibly supply in any orthodox way, about a boy who died before he was born.

At first his family laughed when Edouard, at five, began to tell stories about a brother and sister named Juan and Mercedes, and about a mother with fair skin and black hair. His parents thought it was a phase that would soon pass. But as the months went by, the boy talked increasingly about his “dream life”.

He said his mother used to make hats and sometimes she sent him on errands, particularly to a chemist whose goods were cheaper than elsewhere. But Edouard said he preferred going on longer errands because he could then use the bicycle which was kept in a downstairs room of his house.

The stories were so coherent, so consistent, that the family doctor, hearing one while making a call at the house, was intrigued and began to gently question the boy.
Edouard told him that he had become very ill. His mother had cried a great deal, particularly when an ambulance arrived to take him to hospital. He never arrived at hospital but died in the ambulance on the way there.

“I remember the light through the windows gradually going away,” Edouard told the doctor. “I was tired but not frightened or unhappy.”

“What was your name?” the doctor asked. “Pancho Seco,” said the boy. “We lived in Nuevitas.”

At least there was at last some definite clue. Edouard’s mother had relations in the Nuevitas district. She also knew that her son had never been there.
The following weekend the parents took Edouard on an outing to Nuevitas and passed a chemist’s shop. “Look,” cried the boy. “There it is – the shop I used to go to!” He tugged his parents along the street and round another corner. Running up to a house numbered 68, he shouted, “This is my house.”

His father knocked on the door but no one was in. Shaken, the family returned to Havana where a local clairvoyant was consulted. Could this be a case of reincarnation? How else could such a young child have accumulated such a wealth of accurate information?

By now, Mrs Seco had been contacted at number 68 and she confirmed that her son Pancho had died 11 years earlier. Would she agree to take part in an experiment?
Reluctantly she agreed and escorted by a team or researchers, Edouard returned to Nuevitas. The researchers brought a dossier with them, compiled from the boy’s alleged recollections of an earlier life.

He said that his mother’s first name was Amparo and his father’s Pierro. He had a brother and sister. He said the railway ran behind the house. His father worked for the post office and rose to work on a blue bicycle.

He named places in the country where the family had been taken for days out and described in detail what had happened on these occasions. He said he had once owned a dog named Tolo, which had been killed by a tram.

In all, the dossier contained over 50 such details of routine family life and Mrs Seco said they were all accurate. Most of them were things only her son Pancho could have known. Researchers then persuaded Mrs Seco to stand in the street while Edouard was taken past by his father.

When the boy spotted the woman he immediately shouted, “There’s my other mother – over by the shop window.” Mrs Seco hurried away, unable to cope with the unbelievable confrontation.

In another test, the boy picked out Pancho’s relatives and friends in a crowd and addressed them by names Pancho had used.

Today Edouard still astounds and upsets his parents by revealing new facts about what appears to be a previous life. But as the memories take shape they are unable to come up with any alternative to the theory that somehow a dead child’s spirit lives on in their son.

Read Stranger Than Fiction every week in Ireland’s Own

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Liam Nolan begins a new series on One-Book Authors, starting with Anna Sewell, the author of Black Beauty

The frail, pain-ravaged, crippled woman who authored one of the biggest-selling books in the English language, wrote most of it in pencil whilst lying on a couch. She began writing it in her fifties, using a discarded accounts ledger and slips of paper. It took six years to finish.Her mother, a pious, kind, and gentle woman, transcribed the pencilled material.

j607_sewellThe author was Anna Sewell. Her pet name was ‘Nannie’. Her novel was the much loved and highly influential Black Beauty: The Autobiography of a Horse. The publishers gave her a miserly £20 for it. It was the only book Anna ever wrote.
Black Beauty has sold over 50 million copies. It is the sixth most popular work in the English language, has never been out of print, and has been translated into Japanese, Italian, French, Hindustani, Spanish, and many other languages. Three films have been based on it, as well as countless television and radio shows.

Anna Sewell never intended Black Beauty to be considered purely as a story for children. She wrote it to highlight the treatment of horses in the 19th century. Its special aim, she said, was “to induce kindness, sympathy, and an understanding treatment of horses”. She was conscious that the animals were used to haul barges and carriages, to haul granite and coal, and to carry loads that damaged their legs and hoofs on the cobblestoned streets of towns and cities.

Anna died in 1877 in Old Catton, near Norwich, just five months after her book first came out. She was 57, and passed away from suspected peritonitis, tuberculosis, and depression. But she had lived long enough to know that the book was a bestseller. By the time she died, 30,000 copies had been sold.

“The book has lived,” someone said, “(But) the author has been forgotten.”
Anna Sewell was born in Great Yarmouth in 1820 to Quaker parents, Isaac and Mary Wright Sewell. They had a son, Philip, two years after Anna was born. The family then moved to London.

One afternoon when she was 14, running in the rain, Anna slipped and fell awkwardly, injuring her ankles. Mistreated medically, they never healed. The result: Anna was condemned to a lifetime of never-ending excruciating pain. She was never again able to walk properly, or stand for longer than minutes at a time. The few steps she was able to make could be accomplished only with the aid of a crutch.

Her mother, a best-selling writer of moral tales and ballads for children, looked after Anna’s education, mainly at home. The works of Tennyson, Wordsworth and Shakespeare fascinated Anna. She helped her mother to edit the little books that Mary wrote.

Anna learned to ride horses at her grandparents’ farm in Norwich, where she grew to love the animals. Eventually her mother bought her a pony and trap to help her get around in the outdoors. She trained her pony to respond to verbal signals, and never she resorted to using a whip.

blackbeautycoverfirsted1877Isaac, Anna’s father, was a poor businessman, and the Sewells stumbled from one financial crisis to another. He finally got a job as a bank manager! But it was Anna’s mother’s income from writing that financed the family for years. She earned enough to be able to take Anna to spas in Europe for hydrotherapy, and to visit German and Spanish doctors, trying to find a cure for Anna’s crippled legs and feet. Sadly, none of it worked, though on one trip Anna met the poet Tennyson. Mother and daughter grew ever closer in their relationship. They went frequently to the workhouse in Brighton where they laboured to help the poor.

In 1864 the family moved to Old Catton, a village in Norfolk. Anna’s health had been deteriorating steadily, and when she was 54 and had become too weak to leave the house, they sold her pony and trap. That was when she began writing Black Beauty.
She decided to write the story from the horse’s point of view — “translated from the equine”, as she playfully suggested. It was a remarkable literary device. “We call them dumb animals,” she said, “ and so they are, for they cannot tell us how they feel, but they do not suffer less because they have no words.”

Anna Sewell had an abundance of words of compassion, a love of horses, a fine command of English, and those cherished qualities, sincerity and integrity. She employed them all to produce one of the best-loved classics of literature.  
“There is no religion without love,” she wrote, “and people may talk as much as they like about their religion, but if it does not teach them to be good and kind to man and beast, it is all a sham.”

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