Thousands of Irish women have endured the trauma of forced adoptions, writes Conall Ó Fátharta
THE release of the Oscar- nominated film Philomena is finally encouraging women who were forced to give their children up for adoption and adopted people to speak out and demand answers from the State.
If one lesson should be taken from the film, it’s that there are thousands of women like Philomena Lee in Ireland, many of whom have never told their story, many living in fear or shame of speaking about how they were forced to give their children up for adoption, in some cases illegally and without adequate consent.
In 2010, the Irish Examiner first reported on Tressa Reeves, whose son was illegally adopted without her consent in 1961, after his birth was falsely registered in the name of the adoptive parents. She waged a 50-year battle for the State to formally recognise that she gave birth to a son.
On the Today with Seán O’Rourke programme, mother Dee Templeton and son Micheál Daly spoke of reuniting 44 years after Dee was forced to give Micheál up for adoption in Bessboro Mother and Baby Home in Cork.
Bessboro strikes fear and anger when mentioned to adopted people and birth parents. Prior to its 25,000 adoption files being transferred to the HSE in 2011, it had a notorious reputation for deliberately keeping adopted people and birth parents apart or issuing false information.
Dee, at the age of just 16 years old, described Bessboro as a place of “no kindness”. She last saw her son at 10 weeks old, when she was left on the side of the road near a Travellers’ camp about two miles outside of Kilkenny.
Dee eventually left Ireland and spent years fighting “lies and obfuscation” until she finally uncovered an address for her son in Gneeveguilla on the Cork/Kerry border last year.
“I remember sitting outside the post office for half an hour with that letter in my hand thinking: ‘As soon as I put this in the letterbox, I am going to set in motion something I have no more control over’ ” she says. “ It was very frightening. I didn’t know what I was going to turn up — a drunk, a wife beater, somebody sick, dead even. It was very frightening writing it.”
For Micheál’s part, he had never searched for Dee, as he had been told his natural parents had died in a car crash. This was what his parents were told when they adopted him.
In a surreal twist of fate, he received the letter from Dee on the same day that memorial cards he’d had made for his recently deceased adoptive father arrived in the post.
“The day his memorial cards arrived in the post, so did the letter from Dee, my birth mother, and I got this overwhelming feeling that Dad was saying to me: ‘Well my bit is done, let someone else take over,’ and I can safely say that that was the first time ever that my legs went from under me,” says Micheál. “It was the most surreal experience having the two things in your hand at the same time.”
The letter led to a reunion in December and the pair are now in regular contact. Micheál said choosing a present to bring his natural mother was a difficult decision so he brought a photobook of his life. The book contained photographs from his earliest times as a baby, right up until his reading of her letter 44 years later.
“I have a very, very strange relationship with her,” says Micheál. “It’s not a mother/son relationship at all. It can’t be. That’s impossible.
“It’s like there has just been a gap in our acquaintance. She’s like a person I have known forever. It’s the strangest thing that I feel a huge bond with her.
“I can’t explain it at all. It’s just that there is this connection. We get on exceptionally well.”
I fear this letter will come as a shock to you. There is no easy way to say that I believe that I am your birth mother.
I have been trying to trace you for most of your life. I didn’t give you up willingly, nor have I ever given up trying to find you. You were taken from me but that is no bad reflection on your adoptive parents but on the corrupt system at the time.
I don’t want to overwhelm you with information at this stage, but I am sure it must be obvious that my dearest wish is to get to know you.
I last saw you when you were 10 weeks old. It broke my heart then, and I would like you to know that I have never had you out of my mind since.
Every fourth of July, I had my own private little remembrance of you and hoped and prayed that you were well and happy. I tried everything to get information over the years, without success. The Irish authorities have a vested interest in keeping these things closed secrets, even now.
If you’re interested, I hope to tell you in person how writing this letter finally became possible. You have my address above and I can also be contacted by email.
I know virtually nothing about you so this letter is the hardest one I have ever written — how to find the right words. It will be a shock for you and for this I am more than sorry, and hope you will understand that it’s not something I undertook lightly.
For almost 44 years, I have had to live with a burning need to know you are alright. I still need to know this.
Please, please contact me. If it’s easier for you, this can be done through an intermediary from the Adoption Rights Alliance.
She suggested I handwrite this but I was shaking so much, it was just a mess. I hope to hear from you soon. With my very best wishes,
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