Chance encounter on a Florida holiday reunites Irish man with his mother after a 25 year search- ‘It was the most emotional moment of my life’
A Belfast man who spent more than 25 years searching for his mother has spoken about the ‘mind-blowing’ coincidence which saw them reunite for the first time in almost three decades.
John Chambers (50) was very young when the tumultuous marriage between his Protestant father and Catholic mother broke down, which saw her flee to England in the hopes of starting a new life.
After the death of his father when he was nine, John said he had a particular interest to locate his mum, but the search was fruitless as his relatives would not even tell him her name.
After years of searching, a chance meeting between John’s friend and his mum’s sister in Florida allowed him to contact his mother for the first time in 25 years.
Speaking to The Ryan Tubridy Show on Radio One, John said: “It was a hostile break-up and there were problems in the marriage. My mum took me and one of my siblings to London. She wanted to live there and build a new life over there. But my dad’s family came over to London and brought us back. We didn’t know it at the time but when he brought us back to Belfast that was the last time that we would see or have any contact with our mother for 25 years,” he said.
“At an early stage I didn’t really miss my mum because I had everything I needed but as I got older I started missing her. I thought she was dead until I was about 14 or 15 and then I heard my older relatives talking about her. I had a suspicion that she was living in England. My dad was still alive at that stage and I didn’t have an interest finding my mum, because I didn’t want anything to do with her.
“The fact that my mother was a Catholic wasn’t the kind of thing you could admit in Downcairn. We were told never to mention that fact and keep that dirty secret because we would have been ostracised and picked on,” he said.
When he was a young man, John launched his search for his mum, but did not have a lot of information to go one. He describes the chance meeting between his friend and his aunt in the US as “fate”.
“I was hitting dead ends everywhere until I was 26, when a friend that I went to school with went to Florida and he met this Belfast couple and the lady Philomena asked him if he knew the Chambers family. He said ‘Yeah I went to school with John’. It turns out that this lady was my mum’s sister. It was bizarre. She was my auntie. It was such a coincidence. She gave him a letter to give to me back in Belfast and my sister got the letter and eventually it made its way to London to me. It was mind-blowing.
“The letter said: ‘Your mum has been looking for you all your lives’,” said John.
After an emotional phone conversation that lasted for hours, John and his brother travelled to Preston in Lancashire to meet their mother for the first time in over two decades.
“My brother and I went up to Preston to meet her for the first time. She came along and it was just before Christmas. The minute I saw her I knew who she was. She was the spitting image of my sister Jane. The minute I saw her it was the most emotional moment of my life. She recognised me also because I’m the spitting image of my dad.
“There were lots of tears and lots of hugs. It was a pivotal point in my life,” he said.
John, who lives in England with his wife and two children, now sees his mum daily and is currently seeking a publisher to take on the book he has written about the experience.
“Our relationship is fantastic. Me and my wife and my kids moved up to the north of England to be nearer to her. She lives around the corner from us now and we spend a lot of time together and see each other almost every day.
“I believe in fate and I think something or someone made that million to one chance happen,” he said.