I’m Sinéad O’Flanagan, I’m twenty-four and I’m a midwife. I came here to Chicago last year. It was Wednesday 15th July 1925. I will never forget that day, because as I enter the States, I could have as well been slapped onto the moon. Nothing here looks, smells or feels as it did in the village where I was born in the Shannon Valley… and that was even fine with me, at the beginning.
When I left Ireland, I left nothing behind. I’m the last of my family, a family of midwives and healers. I was reared by my Granny to be a midwife, knowing herbs and their powers. Knowing the bodies and minds of people, especially mothers. Knowing how to look beyond the flimsy veil of this world. But when Granny died, the world topple upside down for me. I was still very young and people didn’t trust me. Granny had been respected and sought after for her wisdom. She was an elder, she had been a mother herself. I was young and unripe, what did I have to offer to anyone?
As time passed, I came to believe the same, that I had nothing to offer. I begun to think that place, which had been Granny’s and my family’s place for centuries, maybe wasn’t supposed to be mine. So when I had the possibility to leave, I did. When I came to Chicago, everything was new and different, but I thought maybe it should be this way. Maybe my path was to build a new life in a New World.
Life is so strange, you know? It has the weirdest way to guide you.
When I started working here, helping people in my own Irish community, I met a woman, an old woman. A midwife herself. An Irish woman, she said she was, though she was born right here in Chicago. But she was so much like Granny and like her, she could look though me. She saw right away I wasn’t walking the path meant for me, a path she herself knew so well.
She gave me this coin. She asked a promise of me and she knew exactly what she was doing. She was a healer, after all.
Interview with Sinéad O’Flanagan
Hi Sinéad! Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
Sinéad is a young woman in her mid-twenties and as she enters the room and sits down for the interview, it’s apparent she’s quite ill at ease about it.
“I don’t see why people would want to know about me,” she says with a shy smile. “I’m a regular woman.”
She sits with her back straight, clutching her purse with both hands in her lap.
“Do you like my purse?” she asks. “It’s a gift from a very good friend. She stitched it herself. Gifts are precious. They give you strength.”
She wears a very simple dress, tide with a sash at her hips. It’s a creamy colour that matches her cloche, which covers her hair almost completely, though rebel auburn curls escape and brush her cheeks.
Her face is all cover up with freckles, which she tried very hard to cover with make up, but still show through it. Her chestnut eyes are clear and large.
Please tell us about your family.
“I was born in a very little village in the Shannon Valley in Ireland. A very far away place, I now think, but…” Her voice trails away, but then she smiles. “It was home. It is home.
I never knew my father. Granny never told me about it. It feels as if my family was always a mostly female family. My mum dies of pneumonia when I was three and Granny raised me. She was a midwife, like most of my female ancestors. Like myself. She knew about herbs, and she knew about the soul and the spirit of people.”
She pauses only a moment, pensively. “I’m trying to follow in her footsteps as well I can. Granny taught me to speak by telling me the names of the different herbs and their properties. I learn to walk in the wood, where I help Granny gathering those herbs. When I was old enough – that means around ten – she started bringing me with her when she went to deliver babies.”
I have heard that your Granny was a wise woman.
“She was, even in the sense you mean.” She fidgets absentmindedly with her purse. “But my people understood it in a different way. Granny was a wise woman because she knew things only few people knows. People trusted her.” She wavered and bit at her lower lip. “Even dead people trusted her and sometimes they would come to talk to her.
Do they come to talk to you too?
“No. I can’t talk to ghosts.” Her fingers are still nervos over her purse. “Bones talk to me.”I can't talk to ghosts. Bones talk to me - Meet Sénead O'Flanagan, bonecaster #paranormal Click To Tweet
You mean divination bones?
If you prefers to call them that. They’re bones. They’re like spirits. If you ask them questions, they’ll answer. And they will always say the truth.
You look a bit uncomfortable talking about it.
Many people don’t like me talking about it. They think I’m talking about witchcraft, which is ridiculous. This is the world around us, it isn’t something dark or devious. But still, especially in the big cities, especially modern youths don’t like to talk about it and I know I’ll get into trouble if I do.
When I left my village and I went to Galway, and especially when I came to Chicago, I thought maybe life was showing me a new way. Maybe I was supposed to leave the past behind and embrace a new life. I tried to do it, I really did. But I discovered all the meanings were in my past and in the knowledge my ancestors handed down to me. My knowledge. My bones. That’s who I am. I can’t just shed it. And I don’t want to.”
We’ll go on to something more easy. Your favorites. Tell us your favorite and why:
Word- Heart. Heart is the most important part of any being. It’s where all the knowledge is kept and where all the emotions reside. The way your knowledge and your emotions mix… that’s you. That’s the person you are.
Color- Can I choose two? Green and grey. That’s my home. That’s Ireland. When it rains – and you’d be surprise how often it does,” she laughs, “the grass turns a brilliant emerald green, but the sky remains overcast and grey – though of a luminous grey. The two colours seem to complement each other and make each other more brilliant by contrast. It happens so often in Ireland.
Food- Ginger cookies. Granny baked the best in the world.
Drink- I don’t drink often, but when I go out with friends, I usually get a cocktail or two. My favourite is the Rob Roy.
Subject in school- Granny was my school. She taught me everything I know. Herbs properties, the needs of a woman’s body. The emotions and fears of a mother before and after she delivers. Midwives must know the minds of mothers as well as their body, if they want to be of help.
Then, when I came to Chicago, I met a woman, Kathlyn, a midwife like myself. Her mother came from Ireland too. Kathlyn taught me to read and count. She also reminded me I should believe in myself, in my knowledge and my skills.
How did your last relationship end?
She stands still for a long moment, her face expressionless.
“I’m not sure there was any kind of emotional relationship with Cathal. I thought there was, but… you know, when Granny died, the world toppled upside down for me. People trusted Granny, but not me. I did my mistake, I won’t deny it, but I felt so lost and alone… and that was enough for them to think I was not a good midwife. I could not replace my Granny. It was hard. Hard and lonely and Cathal’s company felt good… and long as it lasted. Then he too merged into the flow of people who didn’t think enough of me.
Tell us your thoughts on love. Marriage? Kids?
“Love is such a precious, rare thing. We should be careful when giving it and when accepting it.”
She smiles. “But sometime you do find it.” She blushes so hard her freckles disappear under the make up. She lowers her gaze, still smiling. “I met this man, Michael. He’s a good man and he accepts me for who I am. He understands me. I don’t know whether we’ll ever marry, but I hope we’re spend the rest of our life together.”
This is an interview with one of my main characters from Ghostly Smell Around. It originally appeared in the Saturday Morning Character on Lyssa Layne’s blog, but I was given permission to repost it here.