Woman reunited with snatched baby

Woman reunited with snatched baby

A Co Tyrone pensioner, who was forced to enter a Catholic convent after falling pregnant as a young, single woman, has told UTV Live Tonight that she searched for years for the baby son put up for adoption in the 1960s without her permission.

The woman, who did not want to be identified, was 20 - and one of 18 children - when she fell pregnant with her first born, whom she would later call James Joseph.

Her mother's response to her daughter's pregnancy was to kick her out of the family home in rural Tyrone. With no money and nowhere to go, she went to a local priest. He advised her to seek shelter at the Good Shepherd Convent in Newry.

She admitted that she felt sick going through the convent gates for the first time.

"It was just like a horror film," she added.

She told UTV Live Tonight that, during her time at the convent, she was mentally and physically abused, forced to do laundry and scrub floors - even up to four hours before she gave birth to her son.

"If you didn't do what you were told you were made kneel, maybe for an hour, two hours, on the ground."

She was called obscene names for being pregnant and unmarried. Other punishments were smacking, hair pulling and being handed a doubled work load.

When baby James was born, her infant son was her only joy in very bleak surroundings. But on 15 March 1963, her life changed forever.

Shortly after she woke that morning, she was informed by a nun her baby was gone. The baby she had breastfed morning, noon and night for five months was gone.

"One of the sisters came and told me: 'Don't you go to the laundry today because your child's not there.

"I squealed and roared and shouted at her."

They took my baby son away. They made me work like an unpaid slave, washing laundry and scrubbing floors. It was a nightmare.

Co Tyrone pensioner

Her son had been sent to Nazareth House in Fahan, Co Donegal to be adopted without her permission.

Haunted, she left the convent a few weeks later.

Desperate to see her son, she hitched a lift across the border with a friend on three occasions. But on the third trip, she was warned never to return.

While a stranger attended to her infant son inside the house, she was left distressed and crying outside on the doorstep. An experience she described as "horrendous."

For years she searched for him, employing lawyers to help her find her first born - but he had vanished. Every night before she went to sleep, she thought of her absent child.

Now a mother of five, she would put an extra present under the tree at Christmas, and his birthday, 1 December, was always a difficult day for her.

Then, 46 years after James had been wrenched from her, a letter arrived.

Her son had finally found her.

On 11 September 2011 they met for the first time, James says he was stunned when he remembered his mother's smell the first time they embraced all those years on.

"I was very nervous, very, very nervous," he recalled. "It was very very emotional, very highly charged."

Although James grew up in a loving family, he still feels robbed of the time he should have spent with his mother.

He said his mother is adamant she did not sign any adoption papers, and that he was taken.

"I suppose it adds insult to injury to think that you were wanted, because maybe through the course of your life, subconsciously, you believe that you maybe weren't wanted, or you were rejected or didn't fit into anybody's plan for life," he added.

"But when you realise that you were, I suppose it is a double insult."

As James' mother was over 18 when she entered the Good Shepherd Convent, she is unable to take part in the current Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry.

However, the pensioner says she would like an apology from the Catholic Church who deprived her of a much loved child.

"They knew what was going on, everything they knew, it was just hidden or brushed under the carpet."

Earlier this month, Taoiseach Enda Kenny made an emotional apology to survivors of the Catholic-run Magdalene laundries on behalf of the Irish government.

Mr Kenny described the workhouses as "the nation's shame" and said state accepted its direct involvement. The apology came two weeks after a report revealed thousands of women forced into the workhouses were verbally and physically abused.


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