'She tried desperately to get me back' - Tuam survivor recalls tracking down birth mother

PJ Haverty explains how his birth mother was warned by the nuns that if she ever found out where he was, she had to stay away or she would be in big trouble.
'She tried desperately to get me back' - Tuam survivor recalls tracking down birth mother

PJ Haverty remembers how he saw his mother while living with his foster parents, but she couldn't reveal who she was. Photo: Ray Ryan

PJ Haverty has an old man on a bike to thank for helping trace his mother.

But despite the fact that she remained devoted to the Church until she died, the 69-year-old has the Catholic Church to thank for destroying his chances of having a normal relationship with her.

She was 27 when Eileen gave birth to him at the St Mary’s Mother and Baby Home in Tuam in 1951.

Not having married, her parents had been told by their parish priest to send her there to have her child because she was a sinner.

He had also informed her parents that she could no longer go to church because she had brought shame on the family.

PJ knew nothing of this when he was young, and he barely even remembers the years he spent in Tuam.

He recalls:

All I really remember is that there was a lot of bedwetting.

“And I remember being marched down the street from the home holding the hand of another child to the local school.

“Other than that, I don’t remember anything.

“It’s odd and I’ve heard other survivors of that home say the same thing to me over the years.”

He was given to a foster home in Menlough, near Tuam, when he was about seven, and his foster parents Teresa and Mikey Hansbury reared him as their own.

They took up fostering after they discovered they couldn’t have children of their own.

When PJ was in his early 20s, he started to try and find out who his mother was.

“My foster mother was determined I would meet my natural mother and she went to great lengths to help make that happen,“ he said.

They found out that his mother had come from Eyrecourt, near Portumna, Co. Galway. So PJ duly drove there and started to ask around.

“In the beginning, nobody would tell me anything,” he said.

“One day I went up and I met this old man on a bicycle and I asked him about the Havertys - my mother’s family name.

“And he said the old people were dead but he said they had two daughters and one of them was pregnant and she was a lovely decent girl.

“He said that she had disappeared and they never saw her again, but he said she has a sister, married down near Eyrecourt.”

The old man described what house she lived in and how to get there.

“I took a chance of knocking on the door,” he recalled.

“I was a bit anxious because I didn’t know what to expect but I thought I’d take a chance

So I knocked, and a woman came to the door and she looked as if she got a fright. It was as if she recognised me.

“She had only part of the door opened and her husband came to the door

“I could see a look on her face and I got worried.

“I didn’t feel welcome so I apologised, and said I must have the wrong house.”

A short while later, a letter arrived at his house from his mother.

The woman who had come to the door in Eyrecourt had been his aunt, and she had indeed recognized PJ, who was 22 at the time.

She had written to his mother and told her that a man who “looks like PJ” had called to the house.

Survivor PJ Haverty shows a passport picture of himself which was taken when he was four to be adopted in the USA from the Mother and Baby Home in Tuam. He ended up going to a foster home in Menlough, near Tuam. Photo: Ray Ryan

Survivor PJ Haverty shows a passport picture of himself which was taken when he was four to be adopted in the USA from the Mother and Baby Home in Tuam. He ended up going to a foster home in Menlough, near Tuam. Photo: Ray Ryan

“I don’t know all the details of how the letter got to me but my foster mother was very good and she made a lot of things possible,” he said.

Excited to finally find his mother, and be in with a chance to meet her, they arranged for him to drive over to London and meet.

He drove from Dublin’s North Wall over to Liverpool and then stayed overnight with relatives in Manchester, before driving down to London.

Despite his anticipation about the moment he would finally meet her, it did not go as he had hoped.

For a start, the bond he thought might emerge at the moment they set eyes on each other didn’t happen.

“When I pulled up outside the house with my car they came out, but there was nothing,” he recalled.

“The reality is that my foster mother became my mother and there was more bonding with her than there was with my natural mother

“It felt strange."

He added: “We got out of the car, I went up and gave her a hug and shook her hand and I shook her husband’s hand."

His mother not only had tea laid out in the front room, but she had also expected him to stay overnight and that they would have a quiet talk between themselves.

But as he had arrived with his foster mother’s sister, her husband and her cousin - all of whom he had stayed with at the various stages of his trip to her home in Brixton in 1976 - it didn’t give her the freedom to talk to him.

“All my life I had asked her in my head why she had left me in Tuam," he said.

“Why didn’t she take me away with her?

“She said she did her best to get me out of St Mary’s in Tuam but the nuns wouldn’t allow it

PJ Haverty says his final meeting with his birth mother "was heartbreaking". Photo: Ray Ryan

PJ Haverty says his final meeting with his birth mother "was heartbreaking". Photo: Ray Ryan

"She was saying how her parents were disgusted about how she got pregnant and about it being a Catholic country and dictated to by the Church.

"We came home and I got a letter from her in which she said she was delighted to meet me."

But they didn’t hear from her again, until one day in around 1995 he got a letter out of the blue.

“My mother said she wanted to know if she could become part of the family,” he said.

“And she said she was very sorry she hadn’t kept in contact but her husband had died shortly after we had been there at her house when we had met for the first time.

She said she didn’t think she had the right to interfere in my life.

PJ’s wife Eileen and himself arranged to not only meet up again in London, but they promised they would show her three grandsons, John, Kevin and Connor.

Because his foster parents were quite ill for a number of years, they didn't meet back in Brixton until 2011.

They took her down for a coffee and a snack in a local cafe and it was there that PJ saw something that brought a bittersweet memory flooding back to him.

“She sat across the table from me, and I was going to ask her about Tuam and more," he recalled.

“But then suddenly I saw a smile on her face, and a look."

He paused as his voice crumbled slightly and he drew a breath.

“When I was in the foster home and I was bringing cows in one evening, this car came over the hill,” he recalled.

“And I just had the cows out on the road. I must have been about 14 at the time. And there were two ladies in the car and the lady on the passenger side rolled the window down.

“And she had asked me where the Hansburys were. So I told her and then I apologised about the cows being on the road.

“And she had a look and a smile on her face as we talked. And as we sat in that Brixton cafe all those years later, I recognised that very look and smile on her face.

“I had actually seen her in the car, I had been talking to her as a child, and all the while not realising that she had been my mother.

She had come looking for me but she had been warned by the nuns that if she ever found out where I was to stay away or she would be in big trouble.

“So that is why she couldn’t open her mouth in the car to say who she was.

“She couldn’t tell me that she was my mother, and I would never know for years the extent to which she had tried desperately to get me back.”

Sadly, when they did meet up again a few months later, his mother didn’t recognise him. She had Alzeihmers.

“It was heartbreaking,” he said. “As I crossed the street to greet her, I said ‘How are you mother?

“And she told me to get out of the way.

“And I said ‘I’m PJ, and I am your son’. She said ‘I have no son, get out of my way, leave me alone and let me get to Mass’.”

A few weeks later, PJ was called by a social worker in England to tell him his mother had died.

When he and his wife went to her funeral, everybody - including the parish priests - were shocked that she had had a son.

“Everyone was asking us why she didn't tell us,” he said. “So I explained to them.

“I told them that she was afraid the door of the Church would be locked in her face because she had had a son out of wedlock and that she had been told she was a sinner.”

More in this section