Tortured journey

TRESSA REEVES stares at the framed piece of paper on the wall.

The birth cert takes pride of place in her home. After a battle with the state lasting almost 50 years, she finally has official recognition that she gave birth to a boy in 1961.

Following a journey involving religious secrecy, denial, an illegal adoption and a false birth registration, she registered André as her own last October. She was 70. He was 48.

But it was a something of an empty victory. She has never seen André since the hours after his birth nor does she know where he is.

October 14, 2009, is the closest she has come. It was the day the state recognised what she had battled for.

She admits being given the piece of paper that day overwhelmed her.

“I was very moved actually. I didn’t think I was going to be. It was a piece of paper I had been trying to get for a long time. We went into this office and we talked to this very nice lady and I signed something. She went out and brought this piece of paper in and I burst into tears.

“It was amazing. It actually hit me then that the whole thing wasn’t just something that is going on over there in Ireland but that this is my life. It’s difficult to explain. I was very shocked and disturbed by it, that all this really happened.”

Tressa firmly believes hers is not the only case involving illegal adoption authorities here are aware of.

André was born in 1961, when Tressa was just 21. Just hours after giving birth he was placed in the care of a religious run adoption agency St Patrick’s Guild in Dublin.

In its offices she signed consent forms which, she presumed, would allow for her son to be legally adopted.

However, in 1997, more than 30 years later, she discovered the agency had allowed for her son to be illegally adopted. In short, a couple seeking a child was given the baby boy by the agency to take as their own and no formal adoption order was ever made.

It took another four years for St Patrick’s Guild to inform Tressa that André’s birth was falsely registered through the nursing home where she gave birth.

This had the effect of removing all legal evidence that Tressa ever had a child and was done without her knowledge or consent.

Even though the Adoption Act of 1952 was introduced to ensure such activity did not occur, St Patrick’s Guild admitted to Tressa it allowed other children to be placed in the same way, including another boy to the same family that took André.

Despite this, St Patrick’s Guild remains a fully accredited adoption agency through the Adoption Board.

The Adoption Board, as well as two previous ministers for children Mary Hanafin and Brian Lenihan are aware of the case.

In response to queries from the Irish Examiner, the Adoption Board said it is aware of “only one case” of an illegal adoption. This is despite the fact St Patrick’s Guild admitted in correspondence with Tressa to having placed numerous other babies in the same way.

Director of St Patrick’s Guild Sr Francis Fahy declined to answer a series of questions put to her concerning the exact number of cases of illegal adoptions on file at the agency but said it dealt with every matter “to the best of its ability”.

“No matter what the circumstances surrounding arrangements made however many years ago the guild deals with each and every matter to the best of its ability and does all it can to assist in any case no matter what the circumstance. We recognise that ‘one size does not fit all’ and thus work with everybody to assist where we can,” she said.

Chairperson of the Council of Irish Adoption Agencies (CIAA), Sheila Gallagher acknowledged agencies had engaged in illegal adoptions but said it was “very unclear” as to how many cases were on agency files and that she did not believe such practice was widespread.

“CIAA are aware that situations did occur in the past where a child was placed with a family and the legal process of adoption was not adhered to, it is very unclear how many children were placed in this way. It is extremely regrettable that these situations occurred in the past and as far we can understand there was a strong motivation of secrecy for all of the parties involved,” she said.

Tressa’s sense of grievance over what was done to her and her child without their consent is palpable.

She feels by telling her story, more women who have lost children to adoption might come out and start to ask questions about the manner in which it was done.

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