Gaol jitters: City hosts World Ghost Convention

THE last time Tina saw her grandfather was last Thursday. The only odd thing about the encounter was that he had been dead for 15 years.

“The funny thing was that it wasn’t really frightening at all. He looked just like he had always looked; dressed in an old tweed jacket with a cord trousers and wearing a shirt and tie. He was always a natty dresser and liked to look his best.

“He was doing the crosswords, something he loved doing. He looked up from his newspaper and gave me a smile. It sounds spooky but it wasn’t. I was so happy to see him. I loved my Granddad very much and still do. It felt good to know that, wherever he is, he is still thinking about me.”

Along with tens of millions of others worldwide, Tina is convinced that the dead live on, not just in our hearts but in our minds and in our souls.

“Hollywood movies focus on the negative side of death when they make really scary films but in my experience, those who have passed over are there to watch over us,” says Tina. “It is a great comfort to me to know that his spirit lives on and that he is up there somewhere looking out for me.”

The notion of life after death may spook some people but it provides comfort to the bereaved and continues to be the subject of academic debate.

“Despite scientific advances, a mystery still exists,” says Dr Margaret Humphries of University College Cork’s Folklore & Ethnology Department. “Death still hasn’t been solved.”

She reflects on the importance of dealing with the supernatural and how it helps people cope with untimely deaths and unexplained experiences.

Dr Humphries was one of the keynote speakers last night at the World Ghost Convention held in Cork City Gaol. Now in its 10th year, the conference is a gathering on a subject that fascinates most Irish people – even those who claim to be sceptics. At this year’s event, there was an eclectic mix of speakers, from academics to spiritual healers, mediums and white witches.

Event organiser Catherine Courtney describes it as a celebration of the supernatural. “It is close to All Souls Day in November and it gives a forum to people who have had supernatural experiences,” she says.

One regular attendee is Ireland’s most famous witch, Helen Barrett, better known as the White Witch of the Isles. Barrett reflects on fate, “the power that predetermines our life’s events”.

She believes that the season of Samhain or Halloween allows even the uninitiated to make contact with the dead and to see a ghost, but warns against unwelcome visitors from the other realm and advises how to deal with them.

“If you see a ghost, you should ring a bell and if a house is haunted, put white sage around the place as no negative spirit can stay in a house that has been daubed with white sage,” says Barrett, who is known for her ability to predict the future. Her speciality is palmistry and how our lives are already stamped in the centre of our hands.

“I give a lecture every year in UCD to the psychiatry department. A lot of my family are psychiatrists. Every year, it’s the biggest audience in the college.”

As she understands it, before you are conceived you dream for four days. And in those four days you see your life stretch out before you. And before you are born, those dreams are imprinted on the palm of your hand. Those lines and markings on your hand dictate the course your life will take.

Princess Diana, for example, whom Barrett predicted would die young, had a very short lifeline. Barrett saw this on the day of the royal wedding in 1984, when Diana raised her hand to wave at the people who lined the streets of London. President Obama too, she warns, has a short lifeline.

Barrett is Ireland’s foremost witch and she has been one since birth. She describes herself as “a hereditary witch. My grandaunt was a witch – it came down through my father’s side of the family”. Her other expertise is the Law of Strategy, upon which the universe seemingly is based, and the role it plays in our destiny. She learned this when she was very young. As well as going to ‘normal’ school in Cork, she also took classes with the children of witches – a school for would-be witches like Hogwarts in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

“I was in a class of 40 children where I was taught magic and we trained in magic from the age of five,” she claims.

Picture: Sisters Marion and Kathryn Denny from Mayfield, Cork at the 10th World Ghost Convention at Cork City Gaol yesterday. Picture: Eddie O’Hare


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