Monday 26 February 2018

Philomena's charity to honour tots who died in home

Philomena Lee is portrayed by Dame Judi Dench in the film Philomena
Philomena Lee is portrayed by Dame Judi Dench in the film Philomena
SERVICE: Philomena Lee's story inspired a hit movie

Nick Bramhill

A CHARITY set up by Philomena Lee – the Irish woman who inspired the hit movie Philomena – will hold a commemorative service next month to honour the hundreds of babies who died in a former mother and baby home.

The event, the first of its kind, will take place at Sean Ross Abbey, the same Roscrea, Co Tipperary, institution that 80-year-old Ms Lee was sent to as an unmarried mother in the 1950s and from where her late son, Anthony, was sold by nuns to an American family when he was just three.

The service, which is being supported by the Adoption Rights Alliance, will honour the mothers and children who died and were buried at the property, while in the care of the institution's order, the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary.

Mary Lawlor, spokesperson for the charity, said the purpose of the ceremony on June 1 was to finally give some dignity to the children who died there, many of who lay unmarked on the grounds.

Ms Lawlor (54), herself a Sean Ross adoptee who has only recently met her US-based natural brother for the first time, said: "The remembrance will include readings from now adult children born at Sean Ross and other mother and baby homes, musical performances and the laying of flowers and flags, representing US states to which many children born at Sean Ross Abbey were adopted.

"There has never been a service for the babies at the grounds before, so it's going to be very emotional."

Ms Lawlor also revealed that the Philomena Project has succeeded in reuniting 50 adoptees with members of their birth families in just over three months.

The charity was launched in late January to provide support and services to the "thousands of Philomenas" who have been unable to trace children taken from them by forced adoptions.

But Ms Lawlor said it remained as challenging as ever to help the hundreds of adopted people and birth mothers who have turned to them, because of the difficulty in gaining access to State-held adoption records.

However, she said she's hopeful the new Minister for Children, Charlie Flanagan, will show a commitment to making legislative changes to release the records of the estimated 60,000 adopted children in Ireland.

She said: "So many people have come out of the woodwork from all over the world since we started the Project. The film really had a worldwide effect and connected with many women in Philomena's situation.

"Philomena Lee is a very brave lady, but her story is far from unique. There are thousands and thousands of Philomenas out there, but now many more have found the courage to come forward.

"We're hearing from between 15 and 20 adoptees and birth mothers every week.

"But the hearbreaking thing is it's still sometimes absolutely impossible to get the information they require."

She added: "We've managed to reunite about 50 adoptees with their birth mothers, but it's not an easy process and we're hoping that things will change with Charlie Flanagan and all the relevant files will be handed over to people who were adopted and their families."

For further information, see www.thephilomena project.org

Sunday Independent

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