Do you believe in ghosts? Do you believe in strange visions or manifestations, in otherworldly phenomena that defy comprehension or explanation? If so, you’re not alone, because I do too.
Here’s a for instance:
One sunny Mother’s Day afternoon, with no pharmaceuticals, illicit or otherwise, nor spirits, brewed or distilled, in my bloodstream, I was transported back to a dark and sorrowful day in pre-Revolutionary times.
Years later, during a family vacation, I was suddenly overcome by despondency and depression so overwhelming that I fled the building we toured. Once outside, those emotions vanished just as quickly.
OK, does that make me coocoo for Cocoa Puffs, or is there another explanation, one that begs credulity?
I am, as you no doubt discerned long ago, of Irish descent. Well, ¾ Irish and ¼ German. The thing is many believe that among those of Celtic descent you’ll find people with “second sight,” the ability to see back – and forward – in time.
Let me share an excerpt from an online story posted on ulsterheritage.com in June 2009.
The Second Sight, or an dara sealladh, is one of the more curious, but constant cultural phenomenons, in Celtic (pronounced Kel-tic, not Sell-tic. Sorry, Boston) lands and those places where Celts have settled around the world. It is the sixth sense, the ability to see and perceive, images or knowledge of events, of death to come, either near or distant. It’s most associated with Gaels of Highland Scottish or Hebridean ancestry, but is also known throughout Ireland and Scotland.
Well, that includes me.
March is the month of green beer, which ain’t Irish, nor is corned beef and cabbage. (Saints preserve us!) But you’ll have a hard time convincing true believers of what’s also called “retrocognition” that it’s as much a pile of… potato peels as “Top o’ the mornin’” or “Sure and begorrah!”
According to the ulsterheritage.com site, The Second Sight is thought to be hereditary and it ‘runs’ in some families. As is often the case in genetics, the Second Sight may skip one or two generations, and then return, like some regressive trait for hair colour or shape of ears. The phenomenon is much too authenticated to pretend it does not exist.
In scientific circles, it’s filed away under “parapsychology” because it can’t be tested or proven.
Fair enough. But I know what I saw and I know what I felt.
Long ago, every other warm weather Sunday saw me load a push mower onto the bed of my pickup and head down to Center Moriches and the wonderful old Red Dutch colonial that was home since emigrating from Levittown in the late 1950s.
I cut the grass, sure, but mostly I had tea with mom, the late Joan Brophy Kelly, a 1940s war bride, mother of seven and a widow at 45. God be good to her.
On those fondly remembered days, The Week in Review, Arts & Leisure and other Sunday Times sections occupied most of the dining room table, save for cups, spoons, plates and white paper bags of crusty hard rolls, twisted salt sticks and sugar-dusted jelly donuts from Pierre’s Bakery in town.
One year, mowing day fell on Mother’s Day. During tea and rolls – between cutting front and back lawns – brother Kevin asked for a ride into town to the local florist. Keven is, let’s say, a spur of the moment guy, not given to advance planning.
Sure thing, said I, and off we went.
The florist was on the east side of Main Street, just west of Beachfern Road. I parked on Beachfern, across from the Little League Field and next to a small, but clearly quite old, cemetery. Kevin went a-shopping and I explored, for the first time, the out-of-the-way burial ground, which I discovered dated back to pre-Revolutionary times.
The oldest stone in the oldest cemetery in town stood above the unassuming grave of Charity Havens, a little girl who died at age eight in 1774. I leaned over and placed my left hand on the top of the stone.
And the modern world evaporated.
Instead, I stood in a field, maybe a hundred feet or so from a knot of black-cloaked figures, their backs to me, gathered around an open grave. I sensed, and I can’t explain why, I was witness to the burial of young Charity, whom, I also sensed, fell victim to scarlet fever.
Just as suddenly, I was back, looking down at her weathered name from the edge of her grave.
I’m not making this up. I hadn’t OD’s on Earl Grey, nor had I partaken of what the Irish call the “the craythur,” meaning “the creature,” meaning whiskey.
Later that day I confided in The Mrs., and, when I asked if she believed me, she said something akin to “why would you make that up?”
I never returned to that cemetery, but something somewhat similar occurred, quite far away, some years later.
My wife, Marnie, and I, our two kids and the aforementioned Joan B. Kelly drove up to Niagara Falls. The Mrs. and kinder had never seen it, but I had, as a freshman at Niagara University. My brother Mike graduated from Niagara and his son, Jamie, was a student there at that time.
The thundering falls wowed all, and then one afternoon we visited Old Fort Niagara, situated on a once-strategic point where the Niagara River carries all of what was Lake Erie into Lake Ontario. The French built their first forth there in 1678. The British captured it in 1759 during the French and Indian War and it was ceded to the U.S. after the Treaty of Paris ended the American Revolution.
History smistory, I was just happy to be outside under a cloudless blue sky on a beautiful spring day in a rather impressive location.
Get the picture? I was in a great mood, that is until we toured the officers’ quarters.
Almost immediately after passing through the heavy oak doors, a smothering sense of hopelessness and depression enveloped me like wet winter snow.
I got out of there as quickly as I could. Once outside, the gloom was gone. Just like that.
When I had a moment to myself I tried to rationalize it away. I knew from experience that local winters, wind-whipped, gray and frigid, can seem endless. Maybe I was simply imagining the state of mind of a young European soldier stationed in a bleak frontier post thousands of miles from hearth and home.
But how could that be? I didn’t have the time to wander through and muse, “Gee, it must have been tough on these guys.” A fall in the lake wouldn’t have hit as hard.
Speaking of Niagara U., one night this very homesick student was in his bunk when I heard a much welcome and comforting sound. A clock with Westminster chimes sounded the hour. The clock rang a quarter of the chime every 15 minutes, adding up to a half hour, then a quarter of, and finally the fill chime followed by successive “bongs,” one for each hour.
A beautiful tone signaling 11 p.m. Uh, one problem. That clock sits on the mantle above the fireplace at home, 500 miles away.
But I was awake! I’d swear to it!
Do I have “Second Sight” or a screw loose? Or both?
I know this much. If I head to a pub on the 17th, stand on a table and belt out “Danny Boy” I foresee at least one plate of corned beef and cabbage flying my way.
So far, an dara sealladh has been of absolutely no practical use, particularly at the lottery ticket counter.
But if you ever see a picture of me in a tropical shirt, with rod and reel, broadly grinning next to a giant marlin you’ll know it finally kicked in.
Tim Kelly is a former congressional press secretary and award-winning reporter, editor, columnist, and photographer. He has lived on the North Fork for 30 years. For his mid-life crisis, he became a bagpiper.