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DECLAN DOHERTY; FRAN VEALE
Lynott was traced by her son, Leslie, and daughter, Philomena
‘I just sat down and cried’
Bridget Dineen was 18 in 1983 when she became pregnant with her daughter Katherine. “Back then, you only had two options,” she says. “Have a ‘shotgun wedding’ or give your baby up for adoption.” Jimmy, her then boyfriend and now husband, was 19 and the two had been dating a year. “Jimmy suggested we get married but I just thought we were too young and we had nothing that we could give a child,” she says. The couple, from Skibbereen, Co Cork, emigrated to London that May and their baby was born in September. Bridget spent five days in the hospital with her before Katherine’s adoptive parents collected her. The Dineens married three years later, in 1986, and went on to have five more children. The family moved back to Ireland in 1998 but the pair never forgot Katherine. When their other children became teenagers, they decided it was time to tell them they had a sister. “It was like a book they couldn’t finish. The children would spend hours on the internet searching for her. But we never found her.” Then, in April 2011, Bridget set up her own Facebook page to keep in touch with John, her son, who was moving to Australia. “I joined Facebook on a Sunday night and on Tuesday I had a private message from a Ross Robinson in England wondering if I was married to a Jimmy Dineen. He said he thought his father went to school with Jimmy. I emailed saying I was Jimmy’s wife and an hour later I got another message saying Ross was Katherine’s boyfriend and that she just wanted to get to know me. I just sat and cried, tears streaming down my face. It took me a day to reply.” In June, Bridget and Jimmy travelled to England to meet Katherine for the first time in more than 27 years. “I was so nervous, but she ran to us with her arms outstretched.” At Christmas, Katherine visited the family. “It was the first time Jimmy and I and our six children were all under the one roof,” says Bridget.
Ab Above, Byrne with he biol ical B ith her biological mother and sister, and, right, with an album showing photos of her late brother, her sister and herself
Left, Lynott, with rockstar son Phil, put her other two children up for adoption in Britain, where it is easier for the adopted to trace birth parents
Katherine, bottom left, with the rest of the Dineen children
Children adopted in this country have no right to information to help them trace their natural parents but some are lucky enough to see their perseverance rewarded, writes Sinead O’Donnell
Phil Lynott, the late Thin Lizzy frontman, was born in August 1949, at a time when it was difficult for an 18-year-old single mother to cope with an unplanned pregnancy. Lynott had met Phil’s father — Cecil Parris, from Guyana — in Birmingham, having moved to England in 1948. The relationship didn’t last long once Parris took up a job in London and started living there. When Philip was born, Lynott lived in a home for unmarried mothers in Birmingham, before moving into digs. While she was trying to manage, she met another man and had another child, Philomena, in March 1951. She then had Leslie with a different man, 15 months later. Lynott’s mother, Sarah, looked after Philip in Crumlin, Dublin. She didn’t know about Philomena and Leslie, who were given up for adoption. “When I had Jeanette, my mother was asking if I was coming home for Christmas and I was worried about what I would do,” says Lynott. “A welfare nun who used to visit me said she knew of a lovely couple in Blackpool. They were schoolteachers and they would mind her. “When I came back [after Christmas], the nun showed me photographs of Jeanette in a beautiful house and I thought it would be better for her to live there than with me. I gave her up for adoption, and I did the same thing again when I got in trouble for the third time, 15 months later.” “I tried to hold on to my children, but it was so difficult. I was hiding a huge secret from my family. I was living in slums and trying to hold down three jobs.” Over the years, Lynott worried about her children, and then one day in the 1980s the phone rang. “I was living with Philip at the time and my mother was still alive. A girl on the other end said, ‘My name is Jeanette and I’m wondering . . .’, and straight away I said, ‘I’m your mother.’ We both started crying. “We met in secret for a long time after that, as she didn’t want her adoptive parents to know and I didn’t want my mother, who was elderly, to find out.” As both Philomena and Leslie were born in Britain it was relatively simple for them to track down their mother. In the 1990s Leslie heard her being interviewed on the radio and realised that her name matched the name on his adoption papers. “We had our first meeting in the Howth Lodge Hotel in Dublin. When he came through the door, I looked at him
or Philomena Lynott, mother of the late rock legend Phil, always Philip to her, this Christmas was extra special. She was able to share it with the son and daughter she kept secret for more than 50 years. Now 82, Lynott revealed the existence of her daughter, Philomena, and son, Leslie, now both in their sixties, for the first time in a media interview in 2010. Neither ever met Phil, who died in 1986, and though both contacted their birth mother many years ago, she told hardly anyone about them — not even her own mother. “My children — Philip, Jeanette [later named Philomena] and Leslie [born James] — have different fathers. I went out with each of the three men. Even though I gave Jeanette and Leslie up for adoption, I never forgot them.”
and he looked at me and we broke down crying,” says Lynott. While adopted children born in Britain can get access to a range of personal files, it can be difficult for those adopted in Ireland to track down their natural parents. Since adoption legislation was first introduced here back in 1952, approximately 45,000 people have been adopted. Under Irish law, however, they have no automatic legal right to their birth certificate, medical history or information about their identity. According to the Susan Lohan, co-founder of the Adoption Rights Alliance, the situation is a breach of basic human rights. “An open records policy has been in operation in Britain since 1975, but most people don’t realise that adopted people in Ireland are denied their own birth certificate.” In 2005, the Adoption Board set up
the National Adoption Contact Preference Register, which is designed to assist adopted people and their natural families wishing to make contact. The success rate so far has been low. There are 7,081 adopted people on the register with 3,141 natural parents or relatives, yet to date only 600 matches have been achieved — a success rate of about 5 %. Despite the odds against finding their birth parents, some children adopted in Ireland succeed. Edel Byrne, now 42 and living in Tyrone, grew up in Clonmel, Co Tipperary, and was told from a very young age that she was adopted. Byrne, for personal reasons, does not want to reveal her mother’s full name or details of her background, but is happy to talk about finding her. “I had a great upbringing but I was always longing to find out who I really was,” she says. “My adoptive parents
told me I was born in Cork in December 1969 and was adopted from the Sacred Heart mother and baby home when I was 10 days old. When I turned 18, I tried to get some information regarding my birth but was unsuccessful. I moved to London to study nursing but kept trying, and eventually I was told my mother’s name and the area she came from in Offaly.” In the 1980s Byrne managed to learn her natural mother’s date of birth and subsequently found Mary, who was by now married with one son and living in Co Kilkenny. “When I contacted her initially, she said she wasn’t interested. Her son was a teenager at the time and she was afraid of how he might react. I wasn’t upset by her response. I just accepted it and got on with my life.” In 1997, when she was getting married, Byrne received a telegram wishing her all the best from “Mary in Kilkenny”. That was the start of their relationship and the two began meeting in secret every couple of months.
‘I ENCOURAGE ALL ADOPTEES NOT TO GIVE UP HOPE — IT’S A ROLLERCOASTER OF EMOTIONS BUT IT’S WORTH EVERY TEAR SHED’
Her birth mother, however, always battled with her secret. In December 2010 she was admitted to hospital with depression. At this point, a relative who was one of the few who knew of Byrne’s existence decided it might be a good idea to inform Mary’s husband. “He was relieved to know the truth. I also met my [half] brother and he was great, despite the fact that it must have been a shock,” says Byrne. In November 2001, Byrne sought more records from Cork through the Freedom of Information Act. One of the documents in the file that came back to her sparked her curiosity. “It didn’t make sense because it wasn’t my date of birth — it was 1966,” she says. Byrne made further inquiries and discovered that she had two other siblings. “A member of staff at the home said they were recorded as my full siblings, that we had the same father. However she said my brother, John, who was born in November 1962, was deceased. He was killed in America just two years previously. She also told me I have a sister, Ena Ronayne, who now lives in Dublin and she was born in 1966. “I just thought how could this have been . . . Not only did my natural mother not tell me, but all the social workers, nuns, nobody told me I had a sister and brother. The staff member then asked, ‘How did you find your mother?’ And I
said, ‘Well, it wasn’t easy.’ And she said, ‘Your sister, Ena, has been trying to find your mother for the past 26 years.’ ” Byrne and Ronayne met for the first time in Co Monaghan in March of this year. “The two of us couldn’t shut up for talking — we’re very alike in personality. It’s like we’ve known each other for years. Our mother is now 73 and there’s been great improvement in her since Ena came into our lives. “Knowing both of them has made a huge difference to my sense of identity. I would encourage all adoptees wishing to trace their family members not to give up hope — it’s a rollercoaster of emotions, but it’s worth every tear shed.” Lynott, meanwhile, says that she doesn’t think she would have got in contact with her children if they hadn’t found her. “As much as my heart wanted to know, I could not intrude on the people who had devoted their lives to them,” she says. She is glad they both located her: “It’s great having my son and daughter and their families back in my life.”