Monday 24 April 2017

Dublin man John (90) finally meets the half-sisters he never knew he had

John Clarke with half-sisters Bonnie Stanford (left) and Valerie Hipkiss
John Clarke with half-sisters Bonnie Stanford (left) and Valerie Hipkiss
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

A 90-year-old Dublin man is celebrating today - after meeting his two half-sisters for the first time.

John Clarke, who was born in 1926, was placed in St Kevin's orphanage and hospital when he was a child.

He discovered he had six half-brothers and half-sisters only after a genealogist helped trace them following a two-year search.

John's mother, Mary Clarke, gave birth to her eldest son outside of marriage, something that was deemed socially unacceptable at the time.

Mary cared for her son in St Kevin's for the first 14 months of his life before moving to the UK when she was discharged.

Mary went on to marry Englishman Arthur Lockley and the couple had six children - Joyce, Arthur, Brian, Judith, Bonita (Bonnie) and Valerie.

John Clarke with half-sisters Bonnie Stanford (left) and Valerie Hipkiss and other family members
John Clarke with half-sisters Bonnie Stanford (left) and Valerie Hipkiss and other family members

John was placed in a foster home in Clondalkin in 1932 - he never left the area and still lives in the same house.

He married his late wife Betty in 1958 and the couple went on to have nine children.

John spent time in the army and worked at the Clondalkin Paper Mills until his retirement.

He is passionate about GAA and played for Round Tower GAA club and acted as a GAA referee for 20 years.

He also has a keen interest in politics and was a member of the local Fianna Fail Cumann.

In his seventies, John began thinking about his birth mother and realised he would like to trace his family history. However, details on his birth certificate were fairly scant.

Sadly, John's wife Betty died in 2006 but his brother-in-law Tom was determined to help him find out about his past.

According to Tom, they spent months tracing various leads - some of which led them "on a wild goose chase".

"One time we thought we had found a family but we had got it wrong and we were distraught," Tom said.

Eventually, the family decided to enlist genealogist Hilda McCauley who runs Palmerstown Records. She started working on the case in June 2015 and began the arduous process of sifting through old records.

In June 2016, the pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place and she discovered John's mother Mary had another family - the Lockleys - who lived in Birmingham.

In August 2016, the two families connected. The Lockleys had no idea their mother had a son from a previous relationship - but were delighted that John had reached out to them.

John began emailing his family to find out more about his mother. Going through pictures, he realised he shared physical similarities with his half-brother Brian.

Over Christmas John suffered a stroke and in the New Year two of his half-sisters, Bonnie Stanford and Valerie Hipkiss, decided to fly over to Ireland this week to meet him.

"It was very emotional," Tom said. "They brought photos of their mother Mary and exchanged stories and got to catch up. It was unbelievable and meant a lot to John."

With the help of his half-brothers, John has now traced even more family - cousins who are living in Dublin.

"It has been a very long but incredible journey," Tom added.

"It is fantastic that John has been able to reconnect with his sisters and find out so much about his family."

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