Ireland has long been the mother of many a spirited child, but yet none has come so close to compare to her greatest son – Albert Best. Although a distinctly private man, there is some knowledge of Albert in the public domain, however, none to address his humble beginnings. For the first time I can reveal the early life of the greatest Spiritualist Medium ever to grace the emerald isle.
Albert’s story begins on Thursday 11th October 1917 when his mother was admitted to the Belfast Midnight Mission, Belfast, with complications to her pregnancy. Mary Wishart, was an 18-year-old lady from Belfast. Little is known about Albert’s father except that he was called John Winters. Miss. Wishart was attended to by a strong team of Doctors and Nurses upon Albert Sidney Wishart’s arrival to this world on Sunday 2nd December 1917.
Albert’s residence at birth was given as 128b Ormeau Road, Belfast. Balfour House, (as it was known), consisted of two shops with living accommodation above. The proprietor of 128 was; R. Armstrong (Grocer & Fruiter) and 128b was attributed to Margaret Cooper (Baker & Confectioner). It was not uncommon at this time for the owner of a shop to rent out the living accommodation to an employee of the business, or indeed another solvent member of the general public. Quite often the living accommodation would have consisted of two extra flights (as Victorian buildings in this area where usually three stories high). This is the last we hear of Albert’s mother as he was put into the temporary care of another resident; Mrs. Cooke. It is unclear how long Albert stayed in the care of Mrs. Cooke; although we do know that he was then adopted by – Mrs. Best from Portadown.
Adoption in Ireland at this time was very informal, thus no hard and fast rules applied. As a consequence of legislation not coming into force until many years later, a researchable paper trail is virtually impossible. Indeed, many adopted children found new identities with their families, unaware of their biological blood line, or paperwork to substantiate a name change. It is not surprising Albert made jest that he was the uncle of Northern Ireland’s famous footballer, George Best. Sadly this is not the case. The curious case of Mrs. Best would lead us to reasoning that she could have only lived at her family home in one of the following locations:
BRIDGE STREET – Albert Best & T. Best (Confectioner)
CARRICKBLACKER ROAD – George Best & Mary A. Best
FRANCIS STREET – William Best (Monumental Sculptor)
Although there is an Albert Best named here in Bridge Street, these records pre date 1917. Interestingly there is a George Best in Carrickblacker Road … is this where Albert lived and found the humour to suggest relations to the famous footballer? Again it is a challenge to accurately establish the length of time he spent in Portadown, but we do know he also lived at the following addresses:
Mrs. Tunnell – 28 Riga Street, Belfast
(Crimea Street to Tennent Street – Shankill Ward)
179 Erin View
Clifton Park Avenue, Belfast
Mrs. McDonald (Brassfinisher)
Cavehill Road, Belfast
Albert’s mother was born in the same era as Kathleen Goligher, with little age differential. Interestingly Albert’s first home on the Ormeau Road was 0.2 miles for the famous Goligher Circle household – just a four minute walk away. 1917 was certainly a very spiritual period for South Belfast!
Some eight years after Albert’s birth, the residence at 28 Riga Street was demolished. Albert could only have stayed at this residence between 1917 and 1925.
Albert did not relish talking about his formative years because he insisted that he had a difficult childhood. This would certainly appear evident when we consider his adoption, with various moves around Belfast and Portadown. Certainly Albert himself made no secret of the financial constraints surrounding his early upbringing. For all this, it moulded the man that found empathy second nature. In 1925 the Belfast Spiritualist Alliance established themselves at Central Hall, Rosemary Street – a venue that would later play a pivotal role in Albert’s unfoldment. In this same year, at the tender age of seven; Albert recalled having his first spiritual experience, which entailed a full materialization of a discarnate Spirit. Once he became accustomed to the idea, he settled and the seeds of spiritual awareness were sown.
The next seven years would prove challenging for Albert. He left school at the age of 14 and following the passing of his adoption mother, he sought employment in Belfast. Around 1932 he started work as a fitter in the Belfast Rope Works in Royal Avenue.
Belfast Rope Works 1933
Albert began to attend the Belfast Spiritualist Alliance Church in Rosemary Street, which was just around the corner from Royal Avenue. It was not long before the Committee of BSA recognised the wonderful spiritual gifts in Albert that warranted nurturing. He was invited to sit in Circle for development soon after. Life was looking good for Albert.
Central Hall (pre 1941)
Having a steady job and secure digs, Albert liked to frequent one of Belfast’s finest entertainment venues of the time. The Empire Theatre of Varieties was situated in Victoria Square (site of the new Shopping Centre), with the stage door beside the old Kitchen Bar. It was standing in the public queue to gain entrance that Albert reminisces that he met his wife to be, a local Mill worker by the name of Rose Lavery. It was love at first sight. Although it has been said that Albert went on to marry Rose and had three children, (including twins), there is no record of marriage in St. Anne’s Cathedral, or anywhere else in Belfast. Curiously the only record that can be found was with The Parish Church in Seagoe, Portadown. On 8th April 1939 a 26 year old bachelor named Albert Best married a 23 year old spinster called Anna Marie Watson. This Albert was detailed as being a Fitter by profession and Miss Watson was detailed as a Hem Stitcher. The Groom resided at 82 Victoria Street, (Lurgan), and the Bride lived at 18 Levaghery Gardens, (Portadown).
Albert has always maintained that he settled into married life and lived in North Belfast with Rose and their three children. However, it must be noted that there is no record of Albert or Rose living in the New Lodge district or surrounding areas – although some of his previous known addresses are located in North Belfast. By September 1939, Albert volunteered to join the 6th Battalion of the Royal Inniskillen Fusiliers. Whilst Northern Ireland was part of the United Kingdom, it was exempt from compulsory conscription. Many citizens answered their inner callings to serve in the War effort, but it was not common place. Indeed the Republic of Ireland remained neutral. This is perhaps one of the most intriguing untold aspects of Albert’s life at this time, and it all begins with his birth name and family heritage.
The Wishart family name was very rare in Northern Ireland at the time of Albert’s birth. There was, however a family with this surname that resided at 65 Verner Street, Belfast. This was 0.7 miles/13 minute walk from 128b Ormeau Road. Hugh and Sarah Wishart had nine children between 1893 and 1911. The two eldest children, John James (b.1893) and Emily Mary (b.1894) are of specific interest in relation to Albert. Although it is stipulated on Albert’s birth certificate that his mother was aged 18 when he was born, it is conceivable that this Emily Mary Wishart was indeed his mother, and the 5 year differential was an error. I cite the 1911 Census returns for example: John James gave his age as twenty-two when actually he would have been just over eighteen. We could also speculate that the step sisters that Albert often affectionately referred to, where actually his aunts! Conjecture aside, the focus of the family connection must surely be with Hugh Wishart and eldest son, John James – who both served in the Royal Inniskillen Fusiliers.
Why did Albert volunteer to fight in the War? And why did he choose the 6th Battalion of the Royal Inniskillen Fusiliers? If we examine both Hugh and John James’s military records we can see a picture beginning to emerge.
Hugh Wishart served intermittently with the Royal Inniskillen Fusiliers between 1882 and 1920. In 1915 he was subject to a regimental court martial, found guilty and demoted. Finally he was discharged in 1920 on medical grounds. He died from a heart attack on 27th February 1939 and six months later Albert Best would join the regiment.
John James Wishart enlisted with the Royal Inniskillen Fusiliers in 1915. He was also subject to a court martial and summarily executed in 1917. In 2006, John James Wishart received a posthumous pardon.
If the law of probability is weighed in favour of the Wishart connection, we can then surmise the depth of family pride which would have engulfed Albert to join the Royal Inniskillen Fusiliers. Especially with a view to portraying his family name in the best possible light and restoring the integrity it deserved.
Albert voluntarily joined the Royal Inniskillen Fusiliers in September 1939 and by late 1940 was posted in Algiers. He had suffered greatly as a consequence of the war. He had been taken prisoner of war and shot twice; once in the mouth and once in his left hand, which left it paralysed. After being released from the Prison Camp, he returned to England en route to Belfast.
Upon Albert’s return to the UK he was medically retired from the Army and became entitled to his pension. He was in Military Hospital when he requested a Clergy man inquire after his family. He had no news of Rose and the children for some considerable time and was informed that his mail simply was not getting through. The man of cloth was to return the most devastating news Albert was ever to hear. Rose and the three children were wiped out in the second German air raid in Belfast on Monday 5th May 1941. There were no bodies recovered as they had been obliterated. Any remnants of human remains where all buried together, in two mass graves; one at Milltown Cemetery and the other at the City Cemetery. As Rose and the children would have been perceived Catholic, they were laid to rest in Milltown Cemetery. Rose and the children were not listed among the dead or missing as identification was impossible. Albert was devastated and suitably hit the drink for a considerable time. Albert would not return to Belfast permanently, but visited many times over the years, and on occasion would privately visit the mass grave and leave a single red Rose and pray for his family.
In 1944 Albert visited a female relative in Scotland, whom he regarded as his sister (more probably his biological aunt on his mother’s side). He fell in love with Scotland and decided to settle in Ayrshire. He took up accommodation and started to work in the Post Office. He began to sit again in development Circle but by 1951 started to attend the world famous Spiritualist Church in Kilmarnock. It was not long before the legendary man began to be known further afield. Albert developed an uncanny ability to utilise his experience in the Post Office. He would not only give names, but addresses and telephone numbers. He had a fascinating ability to recover information about past lives and events.
In the early 1950’s Albert became acquainted with the editor of Psychic News, Maurice Barbanell. This was a strong friendship that was to see Albert work for Spirit in a variety of places throughout the UK and the rest of the world. By the late 1950’s Albert left his job in the Post Office and moved into a flat in Glasgow. Following a terrible fire in the mid 1960’s, Albert joined a new Healing Sanctuary in Thornhill. He remained as a Healer in this non-denominational Sanctuary until 1982. His Healing ability was legendary and is still talked about today.
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Of all the places in the world that Albert traveled to, India was his favorite. He had a number of lifelong friends that he would visit, and of course, work for. Albert’s healing and Mediumship ability was now world famous and demand for his time was exceptionally high. On his visit in 1991, he had an audience with Rajiv Gandhi (Prime Minister of India). Albert told him to stay out of crowds as he was in great peril. A number of weeks later, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by a suicide bomber that emerged from a crowd! Albert was also a big success in Australia and carried out Paranormal Investigations with Professor Archie Roy. Additionally, he assisted with the location of victims’ bodies from the Moors Murders. It was well known that Albert had Trance and Physical Mediumship abilities, but did not want the Physical aspect of his Mediumship (although, he did embrace his materialized wife and three children, as well as shaking hands with his guides).
Albert turned down countless offers to appear on television (all but a few), but ironically mentored two of today’s most famous celebrity Mediums, the late and great Colin Fry and Gordon Smith. He was a renowned Tutor at the world famous Arthur Findlay College in Stansted and for years he held an Albert Best Week. He was honored for his unceasing work for Spiritualism by being awarded Spiritualist of the Year in 1994.
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Albert always left an indelible impression on everyone he had come to meet. One such recollection told me:
“I met Albert a few times at the AFC. He was a down to earth friendly guy; no edge on him, or wanting to be put on a pedestal. He always wore a suit but had no socks on and slippers, not shoes … often cigarette ash down him. He loved his whisky … I remember visiting him a few weeks before he passed …it was in his flat in Glasgow when he was ill. It was 10am and he got the whisky bottle out and started pouring us both drinks … he had a great sense of humour and loved a gossip of what was going on. I first saw him Demonstrate in Birmingham Town Hall and he was amazing with giving street addresses. People say he was good at this type of information because of him being a postman and the spirit people showing him street signs. I did see him do some talks at the AFC but lecturing was not is cup of tea (that’s not just my opinion, that was also his own). I also witnessed him doing Trance Healing which I know was a part of his work he really enjoyed. I know in India he witnessed full materialisation of his children.”
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Albert Best was the most modest and reclusive of men. Having been through so much tragedy in his life, he was perhaps the best vehicle for helping others. He was taken into Hospital in Glasgow on Tuesday 2nd April 1996 and shortly afterwards slipped into a coma from which he never regained full consciousness. He passed to Spirit ten days later on the evening of Friday 12th April 1996. Albert left his body to medical research with a Scottish University. He will always be revered as one of the most important Spiritualist Mediums of the 21st Century, and no less the greatest Spiritual son of Ireland.
By Medium & Author Michael Flood
Taken from forthcoming ASSMPI Book Release:
“Out of a Medium’s Mouth” With all proceeds being donated to ASSMPI a 501C3 Non Profit.