Parallel Lives in the shadow of Benbulbin from the 18th century to the present day - Anne Hailes

Actress Maureen Thornton died before she was able to complete her novel, which has now been finished by her husband Roy Heayberd in a true labour of love and a tribute to two people who thought as one

Anne Hailes

Anne Hailes

Anne is Northern Ireland's first lady of journalism, having worked in the media since she joined Ulster Television when she was 17. Her columns have been entertaining and informing Irish News readers for 25 years.

The late Maureen Thornton well known actress who died in 2011 and author of Parallel Lives
The late Maureen Thornton, whose novel Parallel Lives has been completed by her husband Ray Heayberd

Parallel Lives is intriguing - a ghost story and a love story - but the background to this book is a story in itself.

Initially we are transported to Co Sligo and the small market town of Dunsilaney in 1740. We arrive in the Benbulbin estate owned by the rich Englishman of means, Sir Maurice Ilbert, who lives in the grand mansion looking towards the sweeping valley and the majestic Benbulbin Mountain.

One feature on the estate is more than special: the Mound of Dubhthach, a sacred place where the bones of noble ancestors lie. When rumours surface that the Mound is to be desecrated and graves dug up to allow new burials after a bitter winter of death and destruction, something has to be done to stop Ilbert and his henchmen fulfil their plans and cause such a tragedy.

Lead by Shamey O’Halloran, a fierce group of local people confront the landowner’s gang and, under a silver moon on a bitterly cold snowy night a brutal and bloody fight breaks out. Ilbert’s insensitive overseer, northerner Thomas Burke, spits a truth when he shouts: “When Ulstermen meet Irishmen there’s always a war.”

Shots ring out, a woman falls wounded and Shamey throws back his head and roars: “I, Mac O’Halloran, ancestor of Larbonel, chieftain of the Nemedians, call upon the Gods to bring down curses upon you Thomas Burke and the Ilbert Family.”

And so it begins

What follows is set in the present day when a violent storm shrieks out of a pure blue sky and thunders through the village wrecking the market stalls and razing homes to the ground, splitting the huge Tree of Life on top of the Mound of Dubhthach and killing two.

Oona Townley O’Brien wasn’t surprised. As the present owner of Benbulbin House she knew this countryside was cursed and the devil was never far away. Unnatural became supernatural with a vivid description of a black raven driven through a windowpane, still alive but hanging half in and half out of the kitchen, black eyes staring at the woman, another sign of the satanic curse.

On Oona’s death the house and its curse is passed to her niece Aine O’Brien, a sophisticated businesswoman hoping for an important job in Europe. But she falls in love with the big house where she grew up and despite talk of ghosts and strange happenings, she leaves her ambitions behind and moves in. However, it’s not long before she’s disturbed by footsteps, windows of the ballroom swinging open and an evil presence causing havoc throughout Benbulbin House.

Parallel Lives is intriguing, a ghost story, a love story and the background to this book is a story in itself.
Parallel Lives is a ghost story and a love story, while the book itself has an intriguing background

And so the story of parallel lives begins.

Soon Aine becomes involved in the life of the town, the antique shop, the local pub, characters like the lovable Apostle Aggie, the dubious bank manager, and she meets the men who have an interest in her new home and will go to any lengths to force it from her. The reader steps into the Benbulbin Estate on Sligo’s border with Fermanagh where the deep and dangerous River Kelpie rises up to snatch people who are never seen again and the Mound, so central to the story, an ungodly place of evil where spectres steal souls as they guard their heritage.

From a ghostly past to an unnerving present, a broken marriage, challenges to her ownership and eventually a new and unbidden love story. Can you fall in love with a ghost? The handsome young man dressed in 18th century costume who captures Aine’s heart with unimaginable results. Can their love dispel a curse? Why are inscrutable men so interested in the Mound and willing to go to any despicable lengths to obtain it.

Another aspect to this love story

The bones of the book were well laid some years ago by author Maureen Thornton, a respected actress who worked with James Young and with the Ulster Actors’ Company in the Arts Theatre. Sadly, although most of the writing was completed, it was unfinished when she died in the summer of 2011, a great sadness to her many friends and especially to her son Adam and her husband, Belfast man Roy Heayberd. He was founder of the Ulster Actors who directed Maureen in countless productions. It became his ambition to finish writing the book and have it published in her name and last week his dedication was realised and Maureen’s book was published on Friday March 1 and is now in main bookshops.

It’s a remarkable piece of writing by two people who thought as one, living parallel lives. Without doubt Maureen’s imagination, research and original writing has resulted in a book which despite the ghostly plot is totally believable; this is an intense book and a mesmerising story with an ending which leaves the reader a lot to contemplate.

Details Available on Amazon, £11.99