Life can sometimes throw up the unexpected; like the sprightly little old lady in Schull who lets slip over tea that she’s a Scientologist. But that’s what makes West Cork a great place to live. Farmers buy veg from hippies, hippies rent land from farmers, blow-ins become locals (almost!), Christians do their weekly shop alongside Muslims, Buddhists and the odd Scientologist! West Cork is a veritable melting pot of all walks of life… And Hazel Cooper has certainly lived a life less ordinary says Mary O’Brien. The 88 year-old Scientologist and violinist lives in Schull and teaches violin and piano to students from as young as four up to Diploma standard. She recently published her life story ‘Pixie’s Song’, a story she describes as one of betrayal, deceit and suppression.
A quiet child, Hazel describes in her book how she grew up “tormented” by her mother, with whom she shared a very difficult relationship. She believes that her traumatic childhood experiences were the reason behind her own failings as a mother.
Hazel first set foot in Ireland at the age of two when she was sent to live with her three eccentric ‘aunts’ on the coast of Northern Ireland.
In Northern Ireland, Hazel was happy. Living in part of a converted coastguard station, the beach was her backyard; baths were given in rock pools layered with seaweed every evening and harsh words were rarely uttered.
But at the age of four, Hazel’s little world was torn asunder, when she was taken back to the UK by her mother. England felt cold and rigid compared to her freedom in Ireland.
A talented musician, Hazel’s love of music was always discouraged by her parents. However when she reached 13 and war broke out, her father came across a lady in the local coal office who happened to be a young and talented pianist. “He asked her if she’d give me lessons,” says Hazel.
Hazel paid for the lessons herself, borrowing some money from her father to raise chickens for eggs. “I sold the eggs to make money for my music lessons,” she explains.
At the age of 17, Hazel joined the Admiralty Service, and enjoyed four of the best years of her life surrounded by scientists and physicians, people who appreciated culture and music. Hazel had the opportunity to study the violin and composition at the Guildford School of Music; she practiced her music for up to three hours every day and enjoyed the companionship of her colleagues during the war years.
When the war came to an end, so too did Hazel’s freedom. She says that she fell under the control of her mother again and consequently failed her entrance exam to the Royal College of Music in London. Her mental vulnerability as a result led to a breakdown, which lasted for 15 years.
After going through a number of psychologists and unsuccessful treatments, on the advice of one psychologist who thought she’d be better off living more independently, Hazel moved to London and got a job in a shop. “I met an artist who became a friend. After telling him my story, he introduced me to his landlady, a practitioner of a new American idea called Dianetics.”
Dianetics is a set of ideas and practices regarding the metaphysical relationship between the mind and body, which was created by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Church of Scientology.
“I would have tried anything at that stage,” says Hazel and she went along to the headquarters of the Church of Scientology in London.
Never short of scandal since its first church opened its doors in California 60 years ago, Scientology was created with ideas derived from Hubbard’s bestselling self-help book, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, published in 1950. Dianetics, a theory of the mind, which had been discredited by the scientific community, was subsequently transformed into something based around faith, not fact.
For believers, Scientology is a pathway to spiritual freedom followed by many high-profile characters such as Hollywood actor Tom Cruise.
For non-believers it can be seen as a celebrity religion but according to Hazel, Scientology saved her life. “I found myself and after many, many years I took down my violin and started playing again.”
“Scientology deals with the person you are inside,” explains Hazel. “It takes your emotions as a guide of where you are on the ‘emotional scale’. That was the first thing that attracted me to it. It takes years of strict study and therapy but you find the real person underneath.”
Although Hazel credits Scientology with helping her to move on from her breakdown, she sadly went on to have two failed marriages and repeated history in her difficult relationships with her own two children.
After a challenging journey, today Hazel says she is happy in life (something she also attributes to Scientology). Although she has arthritis in her hands, she still plays and teaches the violin and records some music.
To date, she hasn’t come across another Scientologist in West Cork, but with such a mix of faiths and creeds across the peninsulas, there is always a chance.