Today would have been your 89th Birthday and for many reasons I wished that you were still here.
I wanted to take this opportunity to write to you to tell you how I have fared since I made my promise to you, that I would find your Mother and your family.
As I write these words, my mind goes back to all those winter visits to Ireland to visit Mom’s family. Whilst those visits were always full of fun, and as young child I remember that they were full of happy memories and tears when we had to leave. But as I got older and was mixing with kids from school, I couldn’t understand why I only had one grandfather and one grandmother.
As life moved on, I became aware of your private pain, masked behind a commentary of orphan-hood, but for me you were the most resilient man I have ever known.
Your arrival in england heralded a transformation in your life, a man who was popular, dedicated, over-coming adversity, but in your heart you were a man both passionately political but liberal in thinking. Can you remember our massive debates on the rule of Law and British rule in Ireland before Independence; now they were passionate?
You may have been a rough ‘awl construction worker [IRISH ACCENT], but I know that you believed in Justice; justice for the ordinary man or woman on the street.
But what about your Justice; Justice for your inner pain, the pain of not knowing your family?
As you got older and fell into ill-health, I saw in you again that gentleness I experienced as a child and so it was I made a private promise to you, to find your Mother and your Family.
But you were not to remain with us; your heart gave way and you were denied the opportunity to discover your past.
I confess that for a few years after I made the promise to you, I let that promise slip.
I don’t know why I did, but several years later, I became consumed by a strong desire to make good on my promise.
And so began my journey; a journey into the past and here into the present.
But as I found, the past is littered with love, betrayal and cover-ups. Little did you know, or perhaps you did, but your birth was hidden behind the one of the greatest forms of ethnic cleansing carried out by a State, aided by the Roman Catholic Church.
Now I can see you getting all riled up because you know I am going to say some not so nice things about our “Riligion” [IRISH ACCENT], but Dad, it’s the truth and as difficult it is to hear, the truth is what will deliver your Justice.
All I had was the knowledge that you had a birth-certificate, because you had applied for your Irish Passport some years ago; nothing else, no information from family or friends, just a gut instinct.
With little to go on, I took myself to the Roscommon Records office, on a day when the workers were on strike. Thankfully there were management staff on duty, who were able to attend, not just to myself but two other British families.
After a while, the worker came back and showed me a copy of your birth-certificate; I was right, there was a certificate, but at first it was thought that you were born in the Galway Mental Hospital but this was quickly corrected when a better copy was obtained, and we saw that you were born in the Galway Central Hospital.
I could see your details, confirming your date of birth and the name of your Mother, Mary Brehany. She was recorded as a Farmers Daughter and she came from Ballyhanry in County Galway, but no Father was recorded.
As I spoke with the lady who was helping me, I told her that the certificate confirmed my suspicions that you were born out of wedlock and that there was very probably an important, but sad story surrounding your birth.
She confided in me that the other two families were searching for similar reasons, but no birth certificates were found. It was apparently rare for children born in the way you were, to have had their births recorded.
As I left the building, the two families were huddled in the reception area, crying.
But I was leaving the Records Office, with a message in a bottle.
The next morning I woke early, wondering where Ballyhanry was and discovered it was near Portumna. I drove down to Portumna on a cold frosty morning, passing by the place names I had often heard you speak, one of which was your beloved Glenammady.
When I got to Portumna, I saw a typical Irish town, with brightly painted shops and houses and several bars, with whisps of smoke from open fires. Did you know that Portumna has a Castle and a beautiful shore-side along Lough Derg?
The winter grey clouds stood still over the mountains and the ground was covered with a light frost; all was still. It may have been romantic, but I imagined your Mom, my grandmother, coming to the lake-side when she came to the Fair in Portumna.
What dreams or hopes did she have I wondered?
Try as I could, I could not find Ballyhanry, but I resolved that I would come back soon and as I did, I made a mental note to stay at the Oak Lodge Bed & Breakfast near the centre of town.
The Oak Lodge would prove to be the key to unravel your story; Mary’s story.
I so wished you were able to physically hear all of this and see what I found.
I so wished you could have been with me when I applied for and received my Irish Passport. I did so, because to be part of this story I felt I needed to embrace my Irish Nationality and to give no excuse to those I would confront.
When I received my Irish Passport, I cannot tell you how proud and emotional I was; it was an unexpected moment, tempered by the thought that you would be laughing at the so-called englishman, who hasn’t a drop of english blood, who was always Irish, but now it was official!
There is so much I want to tell you. I know who your Mother was, what she suffered. I know where the Breheny’s came from, yes, our name is actually spelled e, n, y. I know your 1st cousin and her family. I found relatives in London, Northern Ireland and Connecticut, all Breheny’s, all relatives of yours. I know who your Father was and the kind of man he was. I know the story about the religious and the Irish State.
However, I must say sorry to you because for many years, I lost focus on your story; what happened to you after you were born; who educated you; where did you live? I have managed to address my failings and have discovered that you were one of the fortunate boys and at such an early age, resilience was very evident; I still have much to discover.
For now I must finish off, for there is much to be done, but before I do, I shall leave you with the words of the ex-Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, a Mayo man. In the Dail he gave his famous speech acknowledging the Magdalene Women, your Mom was a Magdalene Woman.
Not everyone has accepted his apology on behalf of the State, simply because the words he spoke do not match up to the actions of what the State should have done or indeed be doing to deliver Justice to the Magdalene Women.
Nonetheless, he said:
“What we discuss today is your story. What we address today is how you took this country’s terrible ‘secret’ and made it your own. Burying it, carrying it in your hearts here at home, or with you to England and to Canada, America and Australia on behalf of Ireland and the Irish people. But from this moment on you need carry it no more. Because today we take it back. Today we acknowledge the role of the State in your ordeal….Let me conclude by again speaking directly to the women whose experiences in Magdalene Laundries have negatively affected their subsequent lives. As a society, for many years we failed you. We forgot you or, if we thought of you at all, we did so in untrue and offensive stereotypes. This is a national shame, for which I again say, I am deeply sorry and offer my full and heartfelt apologies”
Whilst I was happy to hear and read Enda Kenny’s words, particularly on the Injustice to Mary and many others, I was disappointed not to hear him talk about their children.
The children are a precious part of this story.
As far as I am concerned, you and others should be recognised and known as Magdalene Children. Your off-spring should be known as Magdalene Children; my off-spring should be known as Magdalene Children.
It is the Magdalene Women and the Magdalene Children who should never allow the Irish State and the Catholic Church to forget their terrible wrongs.
I am proud that you are a Magdalene Child; I am also proud to be a Magdalene Child with you.
As a Magdalene Child just look at what you and your offspring have achieved, but ultimately Dad, we must deal with and confront the past; the time for silence is over; the time for Justice is coming.
Erin go Bragh, Dad, Erin go Bragh
All my Love
(This article was first produced as a 4849 Podcast and can be found on Frank's YouTube Channel)