TO REINCARNATION PAGE | E-MAIL
BRIDEY MURPHY REVISITED
famous Bridey Murphy case not only remains one of the most famous past-life
memory cases on record but is also notable for being one of the few that has
been both successfully debunked and subsequently 'un-debunked' (a double debunking?)
Though savaged by its critics within months of the stories release in 1956,
it has managed something of a rebound among reincarnationists over the years,
who have been able to punch holes in the skeptic's best explanations for the
mysterious Bridey Murphy's apparent recall of a full life lived in nineteenth
century Ireland. Even the venerable Dr. Stevensonconsidered by many the
most practical and objective of the reincarnationist investigatorsaccepts
the Bridey Murphy case as credible, despite the decades of debate that has raged
around it. As such, I thought it might be interesting to briefly reexamine the
case here, for it is a perfect example of how any paranormal account can be
demolished with a few well-placed shots, and then just as easily resurrected
with a few return salvos. This is not a story of reincarnation per se, but a
quick look at how the skeptical community operates and how it is just as willing
to grasp at straws in its determination not to believe in the possibility of
life after deathusually in any capacityas the proponents of post-mortem
existence are to embrace evidence in support of their beliefs. In other words,
this should demonstrate how both sides basically think alike in their quest
to prove their position. It's all part of human nature, I suppose, and human
nature can be as fascinating a subject for study as even the most inexplicable
mysteries often prove to be.
Basics of the Story:
In November of 1952, a 29-year old Pueblo, Colorado housewife by the name of
Virginia Tighe was put into a deep trance by a self-taught hypnotist Morey Bernstein
in an effort to ascertain whether there was such a thing as reincarnation. Much
to Bernstein's surprise, Mrs. Tighe, speaking in a mild Irish brogue, claimed
to be a woman named Bridey Murphy, born in the town of Cork, Ireland in the
year 1798, and went on to describe in considerable detail a life lived in nineteenth
century Ireland. More just a few vague details and unverifiable claims, Mrs.
Tighe, over the course of several sessions (all of which were carefully recorded
on cassette tape) made a number of statements which were potentially capable
of being verified: for example, she recounted having been born to a barrister
father named Duncan and his wife Kathleen, of marrying a Catholic man from Belfast
named Brian McCarthy, and described her death after a fall down a staircase
in 1864 at the age of sixty-six. Further, she named a number of places (including
the names of locations that had long since been renamed but were in use in nineteenth
century Ireland) as well as acquaintances from her previous life in intricate
detail and, even more impressively, used archaic terms that only someone who
studied the local dialects of Ireland would have recognized. She even correctly
named several household items by their proper nineteenth century terms and identified
the currency of the era (which included a little known monetary denomination
known to exist only during the early nineteenth century.) In all, Mrs. Tighe
made more than two dozen specific statements that provided precise details of
a verifiable nature, many of which were later demonstrated to be correct. She
did all of this, we are assured, with no prior knowledge about or interest in
Ireland or Irish folklore, history, or customs (and, we are told, possessing
no prior interest in reincarnation either.)
impressed, Mr. Bernstein went on to write a book detailing the woman's remarkable
story, which became a national best seller upon its release in January of 1956.
It didn't take long for the scientific and religious communities (inedvertently
acting in concert) to notice and within weeks of Mr. Bernstein's book hitting
the shelves, objections to the story emerged. The criticism came primarily from
three camps: first, from the religious detractors who considered reincarnation
incompatible with their Christian beliefs; second, from the medical/scientific
community who questioned both the validity of hypnosis itself as a tool for
accessing subconscious memories as well as the idea of life after death in general;
and, finally, from the press, who challenged the supposed evidence designed
to bolster the credibility of the story. While the religious opponents attacked
from the standpoint of Biblical innerancy and the medical and scientific communities
worked from the premise that it all lacked empirical evidence, it was the press
that proved to be most damaging to Mrs. Tighe's claims. Doing their own digging,
they were the ones who, writing through a series of damning exposés,
torpedoed Mr. Bernstein's book and reduced the Bridey Murphy story from that
of a metaphysical mystery to a text-book case of cryptomnesia.
It wasn't the fact that there were no written record of either a Bridey (or,
actually, a Bridgette, for which 'Bridey' was a common nickname) Murphy, or
for her parents, or her husbandall of which Mr. Bernstein acknowledged
in his bookthat was most damning. Record keeping in nineteenth century
Ireland was notoriously bad, and considering the commonality of the names Murphy
and MacCarthy, such a lack of physical evidence was understandable. What the
critics had the most success with was in delving into Mrs. Tighe's past, where
they made the following discoveries about Mrs. Tighe:
- As a girl
growing up in Chicago in the 1920's, Virginia Tighe had a neighbor by the
name of Bridie Corkell, whose maiden name was Murphy. Obviously, this was
the subconscious origin of the name Bridey (sp) Murphy.
- For a time
Mrs. Tighe lived with an aunt of Irish descent who apparently regaled the
impressionable young girl with tales of Ireland. These stories were subsequently
forgotten by the young girl but remained as 'hidden' memories that were
later to serve as the basis for much of the later Bridey Murphy mythology.
- A Chicago
clergyman by the name of Rev. Wally White, whose church Mrs. Tighe had supposedly
attended as a child, admitted that the girl had proven especially precocious
and had a notable interest in all things Irish. He was a major source of
information to the reporters of the Chicago American in writing their series
of exposés debunking her story.
- Mrs. Tighe
supposedly learned how to speak in an Irish brogue and perform Irish jigs
from a teacher named Saulnier in Chicago when she was twelve years old.
Apparently, she had a considerable gift for acting and dancing, elements
of which would later play a dramatic role in her Bridey Murphy persona.
- Bridey Murphy
remembered having a brother who died in infancy. According the first exposé,
Mrs. Tighe also had a brother who was stillborn, which undoubtedly served
as the source for Bridey's memories of losing her brother.
- There was
no evidence of a Father John Gorman or a St. Theresa's Catholic Church in
Belfast, at which Bridey and her husband were apparently married, existing
at the time Bridey supposedly lived. Even if record keeping was poor, it
is unlikely something as substantial as a church would not be found somewhere
in the public record.
- Bridey described
herself as growing up in a wooden house at a time when wood was scarce in
Ireland and rarely used as a building material. Bridey also recalled scratching
paint off of the bedposts of her iron bed as a child, years before iron
beds had been introduced to Ireland.
" There were a number of other objections and inconsistencies as well,
most having to do with some of the phraseology she used, as well as other
conclusion, then, was that Mrs. Tighe was the unwitting victim of a form of
self-delusion known as cryptomnesia (lost or hidden memories accessible only
through hypnosis) combined with a fertile imagination, all enhanced and encouraged
through no small amount of leading and coaching by a self-taught hypnotist and
author who was to realize a tidy profit from the story. Just as much of the
public had been quick to accept Bridey Murphy's story at face value, they were
equally as quick to accept the verdict of the 'professionals' that it was much
ado about nothing. Within months, then, the debunkers had successfully destroyed
Mr. Bernstein's credibility and the subject quickly faded from public interest,
along with serious interest in the subject of reincarnation in general.
"Real" Story of Mrs. Tighe
Unbeknownst to most people, however, Mr. Bernstein did not take to having either
his reputation nor the reliability of his work sullied without a fight. Aided
by a reporter for the Denver Post named William Barker (who had first ran the
Bridey Murphy story in 1953) and assisted by a number of allies, Mr. Bernstein
fought to set the record straight.
Several months of investigation, including a careful study of Mrs. Tighe's background,
revealed that the debunkers had been less than honest in their 'facts' concerning
the woman's upbringing, and were proven repeatedly to either be flat-out wrong
in what they said, or were frequently caught portraying the opinions of 'experts'
as though they were irrefutable facts. Writing a supplement to later reprints
of Mr. Bernstein's book, Mr. Barker successfully debunked every point the skeptics
had made, using careful investigation and corroborative facts to make his case
that the Murphy story, while not irrefutable proof of reincarnation, was not
mere nonsense either. Some of the more interesting discoveries he made are as
Tighe did in fact have a neighbor in Chicago by the name of Bridie Corkell,
who had, indeed, grown up in Ireland. However, it was never clearly established
that her maiden name was, in fact, Murphy , nor was it obvious how Mrs.
Tighe would have learned either her first or maiden names as a girl in any
case. She was not a close associate (Mrs. Tighe barely remembered her, according
to her own account) plus children rarely were privy to what would have been
considered personal information such as first or maiden names of non-related
adults. (The author himself has several aunts and to this day has yet to
learn the maiden name of even one of them.) Additionally, if Mrs. Corkell
was the source for Bridey Murphy, why would Mrs. Tighe have used her maiden
name rather than her married name? Wouldn't it have been more consistentif,
indeed, Bridie Corkell was the source for Virginia Tighe's past life personathat
she would have referred to herself as Bridie Corkell rather than Murphy?
Additionally, Mrs. Corkell was not from county Cork as Bridey Murphy claimed
to have been, nor had she ever been to Belfast; she grew up in County Mayo
in western Ireland, a region of Ireland Bridey Murphy made no mention of
during her detailed regression sessions. Again, if Bridie Corkell was the
source of Bridey Murphy, why the abrupt and inexplicable change in locales?
- Mrs. Tighe's
'Irish aunt' Marie, who had lived with her family briefly when Mrs. Tighe
was 18 years old, was not from Ireland, but was born in New York City and
lived most of her life in Chicago. Contrary to what the skeptics have maintained,
she did not 'regale' Mrs. Tighe with stories of Ireland, simply because
she had never been to the place nor any particular interest in it. In any
case, 18 years of age is a bit old for one to acquire 'hidden' memories.
Had Mrs. Tighe actually heard her aunt speak of Ireland, this should have
been easily recalled in later yearsif not the specifics, at least
the fact that she had spoken of the placeimplying that either there
were no stories for Mrs. Tighe to remember, or that she was being less than
honest when later asked about them. Additionally, even if we accept the
possibility that Mrs. Tighe's Irish aunt had told her stories of Ireland,
where would the aunt have gotten such a considerable amount of richly detailed
information, especially considering she had never been to Ireland herself?
She would need have acquired it from somewhere. Further, even if she had
read about Ireland somewhere and inadvertently passed that information on
to an apparently easily impressionable 18-yr old girl, how did she accrue
such a wealth of little-known historical facts and the unique details 'Bridey
Murphy' was later to reveal? Obviously, someone had to have done their research
with no one being the wiser for it, and then that same someone had to have
lied about the facta contention which has never been validated.
- It turns
out Mrs. Tighe had never heard of the Rev. Wally White until he showed up
on her doorstep some months after the release of the book, offering to 'pray'
for her. Not surprisingly, he went on to be a major contributor to the Chicago
American article exposing Mrs. Tighe supposed past, despite having never
known the woman as a child at all. Clearly, if this was the case, the Rev.
White was a self-imposed 'plant' designed to discredit the story for the
obvious reason that reincarnation was incompatible with his religious beliefs
and therefore a threat to be eradicated. There is no evidence the American
knew the good Reverend was mounting his own one-man disinformation program,
but likely simply accepted his word that he had known the woman based upon
the presumption that being a 'man of the cloth' made it unlikely he would
lie. (Author's note: history has repeatedly demonstrated that even deeply
religious peopleand, in some cases, especially deeply religious peoplewill
lie, distort and withhold information if they believe it is for the greater
good. Did the Reverend White fit into this category?)
- Mrs. Tighe
did take 'elocution' lessons from a Mrs. Saulnier in Chicago when she was
twelve years old but, according to later investigators who managed to locate
and interview the woman, Mrs. Tighe apparently demonstrated no particular
gift for acting and never learned Irish jigs from her but only contemporary
- Though Bridey
Murphy claimed to have had a brother who died in infancy, thus paralleling
Mrs. Tighe's childhood memory of having a stillborn brother, this proved
to be completely erroneous: Mrs. Tighe had no such ill-fated sibling, and
never claimed to have. Where this information came from is anyone's guess.
- While admittedly
there was no evidence of either a Father John Gorman or a St. Theresa's
Catholic Church in Belfast, it had to be remembered that there were literally
hundreds of small parishes peppered throughout Belfast in the early nineteenth
century. While larger churches would likely be found in the public record,
it would not be difficult to imagine smaller parishes flourishing for a
time before dying out, moving, or being renamed without leaving a trace
in the public record they ever existed. (Author's note: the fact that Bridey
recalled having Father Gorman over to her house on numerous occasions would
seem to imply he was able to spend considerable time away from his congregation;
something which would only be possible if his 'flock' was a reasonably small
- While much
has been made of Bridey's supposed wooden house (a scarce building material
at the time) it has to be remembered that her home was apparently in a meadowed,
forested area outside of Cork itself, which might have made a wooden house
(or, at least, a partially wooden one) at least feasible. There is also
some confusion as to whether she said on the tape that she lived in a 'wood'
house or a 'good' house. Her Irish brogue was, at times, difficult to make
out and the tapes, being produced on an early recording machine, were not
of the highest sound quality. The fact that Bridey also recalled scratching
paint off of the bedposts of her iron bed as a child, years before iron
beds had been introduced to Ireland, is also a non-starter. Later research
demonstrated that while iron beds were not common in Ireland at the beginning
of the nineteenth century, they were not unheard of either. Since Cork was
a major Irish seaport that served as a conduit for a large number of imports,
it's not inconceivable that her father may have been able to procure an
iron bed, even at such an early date.
- Other objections
and inconsistencies later proved to be largely red herrings as well, leaving
much of the skeptic's case in tatters. Additionally, Mr. Barker noted that
two of the Belfast merchants Bridey named, a Mr. Carrington and a Mr. Farr,
were found listed on a registrar of Belfast merchants from that era, straining
the chances of coincidence to its limits. Even a local coin Bridey nameda
tuppencethat was originally dismissed as nonexistent, turned out to
have been in common use during the time that Bridey lived. In all, while
there were some elements of the Bridey Murphy saga that proved to be unverifiable
and a number of questions that need to be asked, for the most part Mrs.
Tighe's story proved to hold up better under scrutiny than did those of
her skeptics, a point that has since been largely lost on most people.
While the Bridey Murphy story is not the strongest case of reincarnation on
record, it is not the weakest either. What's most curious about it is that even
though the debunkers were themselves debunkedfrom which they have never
answered back, it might be addedskeptics continue to use these objections
today without a second thought. I assume most are simply unaware of these points
or refuse to accept them because they do not conform to their preconceived biases.
While the pro-reincarnation lobby is occasionally just as guilty of this themselves,
it seems that men and women who pride themselves on accuracy and honesty should
know better. No one is demanding they accept the Bridey Murphy story as true,
but it strikes me as dishonest and unprofessional to continue to use long-ago
discredited material to make their tired and oft-repeated case for cryptomnesia.
It simply isn't there, and saying soeven fifty years laterdoes not
make it so.
discussion is taken from Appendix A in my book Mystery of Reincarnation.
All rights reserved.
| REINCARNATION PAGE | HOME