Tuesday 26 September 2017

'I'm coming home to prove I'm not a child of rape', says US woman who claims to be Fr Cleary's daughter

Felicia Irwin, an American-born woman who was adopted almost 30 years ago believes that she is the biological daughter of singing priest Father Michael Cleary. Inset: Ross and Phyllis Hamilton with Fr Cleary
Felicia Irwin, an American-born woman who was adopted almost 30 years ago believes that she is the biological daughter of singing priest Father Michael Cleary. Inset: Ross and Phyllis Hamilton with Fr Cleary
Ross Hamilton, his mother Phyllis and father Michael Cleary
Fr Michael Cleary and a young Felicia
Felicia Irwin
Ross, Phyllis and Fr Michael Cleary

The American woman who believes she's Father Michael Cleary's daughter has said she will do whatever it takes to prove he is her biological father.

Felicia Irwin has pledged to travel to Ireland to take a DNA test to disprove claims that she is a child of rape.

Ross Hamilton, his mother Phyllis and father Michael Cleary
Ross Hamilton, his mother Phyllis and father Michael Cleary

An Independent.ie investigation revealed yesterday an American-born woman who was adopted almost 30 years ago believes that she is the biological daughter of singing priest.

Read more in our Exclusive Full Multimedia story - A Secret Daughter:  Phyllis, Fr Michael Cleary and me

Fr Michael Cleary and a young Felicia
Fr Michael Cleary and a young Felicia

Felicia Irwin - a mother-of-three who lives in Florida - plans to undertake parental tests to determine if she is the third child of Fr Cleary, who died in 1993 aged 60.

She was given up for adoption as a baby by her birth mother Phyllis Hamilton, who was the secret lover of Ireland's most outspoken cleric and the mother of his two sons.

Ms Hamilton gave birth to Felicia in Fort Lauderdale in January 1985 when she went to stay with close friends who later adopted the baby girl.

By that time 35-year-old Phyllis had been the secret lover of charismatic celebrity priest Fr Cleary since 1967.

Felicia Irwin
Felicia Irwin

The clandestine 17-year relationship - concealed by the fact that she was his housekeeper - had already produced two sons. The first son, Douglas Boyd Barrett, was adopted while the second, Ross, was reared by Phyllis and Fr Michael Cleary.

However, Ms Hamilton claimed in her 1995 biography that she fell pregnant with her daughter after being raped by a trainee priest.

But up to the time of her death in 2001 Phyllis confided that she was still unsure as to whether Felicia's father was Michael Cleary or the deacon who was later thrown out of the Church. The alleged rapist died 15 years ago.

"I don't want to be a child of rape," said Felicia in an interview at her Florida home. "I'm scared of what the outcome may be. I was always told I would be shunned [by the Catholic Church]. I've heard nothing but good things about Fr Cleary, but I never met him as my father," she added.

"I know who he (Cleary) was. He inspired a lot of people and I look up to that. I know who he was in the Church and in the community, and I know that people always looked up to him."

Ultimately, the reason Phyllis and her son Ross went public was because they had no choice: the church and Fr Cleary's powerful friends wanted to bury them and their truth.

During her first interview, Phyllis told the Irish Independent's Special Correspondent Paul Williams in his book, Secret Love: My Life with Fr Michael Cleary: "It was so crushing and heart-breaking for me but it absolutely devastated Ross. People who had been friends of Michael's and us, and who knew the secret, began distancing themselves from us.

"They developed amnesia about the whole thing. They even began denying us to the media. Those who did come to visit us were doing so only to find out if I was going to break my silence. Our lives were being controlled and we were afraid to even go out the front door we were so scared."

Read more: Timeline of events

Meanwhile, Professor Ivor Browne, the long-time psychiatrist to both the late Phyllis Hamilton and the late Fr Michael Cleary, said that Phyllis spoke to him at length about the conception and eventual adoption of her daughter Felicia. And she said: "Fr Michael Cleary is not her father."

The highly respected psychiatrist stressed that Ms Irwin should come to Ireland as soon as possible to undergo a DNA test. And he said tissue at St Vincent's Hospital, belonging to Fr Cleary would clarify matters.

He said: "Phyllis told me the full story."

Speaking about their private counselling sessions together which spanned several years he said: "She talked about it all to me. The pain she felt at giving up her daughter - she didn't want to. And then I know she went over [to America] at some stage to try to find [Felicia] and to get her, but then I think the adoption process had gone ahead. I know she wasn't able to bring her home with her."

"A DNA test could be done. But I think it's irrelevant because I am quite certain Cleary is not the father. But then you don't know 100pc - because she could have been sleeping with him at the same time. To absolutely eliminate him it would be good if she got the DNA test."

Felicia said that she is adamant her mother wanted her to know the truth and had been attempting to reach out to her following Fr Michael Cleary's death. Phyllis died in early 2001.

Sunday Independent

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