the 1950s hypnotist Morey Bernstein of Pueblo, Colorado, was working with one of his clients, a twenty-nine-year old housewife and mother named Virginia Tighe when, during one of their sessions, she spoke with the voice and memories of a nineteenth-century Irishwoman named Bridey Murphy. The first time this occurred, Bernstein had been trying to help Tighe to remember her childhood and had casually suggested that she “go to some other place in some other time.” He meant for her to remember some other period of her life, but instead she seemed to jump to the life of someone else who had lived long before. In an Irish accent, she told Bernstein that she, Bridey Murphy, had been born in 1798 and died in 1864 of complications from a broken hip. Virginia Tighe herself was born in the Midwest in 1923, had never been to Ireland, and did not speak with even the slightest hint of an Irish accent.
In this and subsequent hypnosis sessions, she also provided Bernstein with numerous details about her family, experiences, likes and dislikes. For example, she gave the name of the Catholic church in Belfast, Ireland, where she had married Sean Brian Joseph McCarthy in 1818 and offered detailed descriptions of places where she had shopped for food. She also told Bernstein about the time in-between lives, when the spirit waited for a new existence. During this period, she said, she could travel anywhere with just a thought.
Her tale began in 1806 when Bridey was eight years old and living in a house in Cork. She was the daughter of Duncan Murphy, a barrister, and his wife Kathleen. At the age of 17 she married lawyer Sean Brian McCarthy and moved to Belfast. Bridey told of a fall that caused her death and of watching her own funeral, describing her tombstone and the state of being in life after death. It was, she recalled, a feeling of neither pain nor happiness. Somehow, she was reborn in America, although Bridey was not clear how this reincarnation happened.
Bernstein tape-recorded each session, and in 1956 he published a book based on his work, "The Search for Bridey Murphy". (Bernstein called Tighe “Ruth Simmons” in his writings in order to protect her anonymity, but journalists soon uncovered her real name.) Skeptics soon began noting flaws in Tighe’s story. Many of her place descriptions, including details about where Murphy had bought her food, were accurate, but other facts were not. The same was true of her language; some of the words she used were appropriate diction for a nineteenth-century Irishwoman, but others were those of a twentieth-century American. In addition, neither skeptics nor believers could find any evidence that anyone named Bridey Murphy had ever lived. Searches of church baptismal records and other records turned up nothing.
However, historians note that because of carelessness and poor record keeping, the documents of many other, known historical figures cannot be found either, so the lack of documentation could not be considered conclusive. Amidst the furor caused by attempts to track down evidence of the real Bridey Murphy, a Chicago, Illinois, newspaper published a series of articles that attributed Tighe’s knowledge of nineteenth century Ireland to Bridie Corkell, who had been born and raised in Ireland but who had subsequently moved to Chicago. Tighe had grown up in Chicago, and according to the newspaper, her family had known Corkell. Consequently, the newspaper suggested that while under hypnosis Tighe was recalling stories she had heard from Corkell but had forgotten. This did not end the matter, however. The newspaper’s own credibility was called into question when it was revealed that Corkell had not actually spent any time with the Tighe family. Moreover, Corkell turned out to be the mother of the newspaper’s editor.
Despite the many holes in Bridey's story, it was still a remarkably detailed account of life in 19th-century Ireland—information unlikely to have come the way of Virginia Tighe. The case was studied by psychiatrists and psychologists, who had used hypnosis in treatment for many years. Many subjects, in deep hypnosis, can be highly suggestible and will act on the slightest hint given to them, seeking to supply the answer they subconsciously believe the hypnotist wishes to hear. Such hypnosis is largely a matter of releasing relevant details from the brain's incredible capacity for storing information. A subject can even quote verbatim from a long-forgotten childhood book. However, someone under hypnosis is not automatically telling the truth even if they are seeking to give a satisfactory response. Bernstein admitted that, while she was under hypnosis, he did tell Virginia Tighe what he wanted, and it was then that she became Bridey Murphy.
The experts who examined the case of Virginia Tighe came to the conclusion that the best way to arrive at the truth was not to check back to Ireland, but to her own childhood and her relationship with her parents. Morey Bernstein's book stated that Virginia Tighe (whom he called Ruth Simmons in the book) was brought up by a Norwegian uncle and his German-Scottish-Irish wife. However, it did not state that her actual parents were both part Irish and that she had lived with them until the age of three. It also did not mention that an Irish immigrant named Bridie Murphy Corkell (1892–1957) lived across the street from Tighe's childhood home in Chicago, Illinois.
Most scientists today are satisfied that everything Virginia Tighe said can be explained as a memory of her long-forgotten childhood. Skeptics continue to contend that details of nineteenth-century Irish life were available to Tighe, and she was simply creating, probably unintentionally, a story that Bernstein and others wanted to believe. Tighe’s supporters, however, continue to insist that she really did live a former life as Bridey Murphy and reincarnate as Virginia Tighe.