Thursday 20 June 2019

'I have forgiven dad,' says singing priest's son

NICOLA TALLANT THE love child of singing priest Fr Michael Cleary has told how he has forgiven his father and has started building a relationship with his older brother who was adopted to avoid a scandal.

Ross Hamilton says he now understands why his father never left the priesthood to marry his mother Phyllis and always denied his children.

In a rare interview, he admits that he has met up with his brother, Douglas Boyd Barrett, in the past year.

"I feel now like I have come full circle. All during the scandal I never thought to blame him, then as I hit my early 20s, I thought 'what a bastard'. But as I got older and thought about it more, I can put things in perspective. I have made my own mistakes in life.

"I still love him and I understand why he made his mistakes. I can forgive him now and understand how afraid he was of his own family finding out," he says.

Ross was just 16 when, within a week of his father's death, sensational news swept the country that the priest had a long-term romance with his house-keeper Phyllis and fathered two children with her.

In the months that followed, Ross and his mother went to ground, initially refusing to tell their story, then being forced to do so for financial reasons.

Now Ross says that his mother was slowly drinking herself to death as the nation watched her story unfold.

"We kind of became D-list celebrities and everyone wanted a slice. There was huge amounts of sympathy while others called us liars and money-grabbers.

"Eventually a doctor found a swab of my father's DNA and they were able to do the test which gave us some vindication. But my mother had turned into a hermit from day one that this came out. She never recovered and didn't go outdoors at all. She did a lot of drinking and I think she pined away to death for my dad as a direct result of the wholefurore."

Ross says he had a normal childhood despite the fact that his father lived a double life. "There was always a buzz around the house. It was like a strange dysfunctional big family and we were quite happy for a lot of the time. We had lots of family and friends around, it was just normal."

But he admits that there was always a question in the back of his mind over who his father was.

"I had invented this super dad until one kid cottoned on that I was making it up. I came home that night and demanded to know what the craic was. My mother sat me on her knee and she asked me who I thought my father was. I gave a list of Hollywood types and eventually said 'Father'.

"I didn't confide in any friends until I was 15 or 16 when dad was dying. Mum and dad had a few confidants but I didn't."

Ross says his mother, who died in 2001, was naive but a very kind-hearted woman.

"She was big-hearted and and warm. She always wanted to help and see justice done. She was naive about things and life, even up until when she died. She was hung up on religion in an old-fashioned sense.

"My Dad was a kind of a dad/uncle type. I think people accepted that I was the housekeeper's son and like a surrogate son to him. In a way, we were really hidden from plain sight."

Ross recalls how his father was playing golf in Spain when the Bishop Eamon Casey scandal rocked Ireland - and was to change his own life for ever.

"I remember my mum woke me up to tell me the story had broken. She was in a panic. I woke up scratching my head and couldn't realise what the big deal was. But what it meant was that the witch hunt was on.

"Bishop Casey knew about me and my older brother but he had never told my father about his own situationalthough he had berated my father.

"My father came back and the panic was on and it was the first time we had to sit and confront each other as father and son. It was very uncomfortable," Ross reveals.

"After that, the stress and worry of being found out meant that he started to die of cancer. It was only a few months after that he was diagnosed and two years later he died.

"Journalists were accusing him of this and that but they never hit on the right person. When he died - a week later the article broke and there was a complete frenzy."

Ross says that he is now closing the chapter, and that in the past year he has made contact with his brother.

"We have met up a few times and I have met his son, my nephew, and we are just starting to get to know one another."

Ross will be interviewed for RTE's 'Scannal!' to be screened on tomorrow at 7.30pm.

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