Tuesday 24 October 2017

Pat Henry on the pain of his adoption story- 'I know in my soul that someone knows who my dad was'

He is the country's top fitness guru, but Pat Henry has a burning desire to uncover his true identity

Search: Pat Henry (pictured with Clare Byrne at the 30th anniversary of his gym) was shocked to discover that he had been adopted Photo: Brian McEvoy
Search: Pat Henry (pictured with Clare Byrne at the 30th anniversary of his gym) was shocked to discover that he had been adopted Photo: Brian McEvoy
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

His eyes downcast, Pat Henry has a look of absolute disappointment. Monday morning in a cafe off St Stephen's Green, he has just opened a letter from a clinic in America. Pat had hoped it would identify his father through DNA but the result has sadly come back negative.

It was possibly Pat's last chance to find out who his father was. Although he feels that his father is probably dead, Pat says he will not give up hope because, he says, there must be someone in Ireland who knows the identity of his father.

How does it make Pat feel that he will probably never see his dad?

"It is sad. I would love to put the final touches to the whole thing, I would love to have known who he was."

I've known Pat for nearly three decades and this is the first time I've seen tears well up in his eyes.

At that moment, you forget Pat is an internationally acclaimed Irish fitness guru who has coached everyone from David Bowie to Bruce Springsteen to Michael Flatley. What you see instead is a deeply sensitive, vulnerable even, soul from Dublin's East Wall who only discovered seven years ago by chance that he was adopted when he was six-months-old.

Personal trainer Pat Henry
Personal trainer Pat Henry

Pat's life was turned upside down in that moment.

His younger brother Thomas came over to the gym one morning in Dublin's Lower Pembroke Street in shock. Pat knew by Thomas's face that something was not right.

He told Pat he found out when he went to get his birth cert in the office in town, and the girl said to him: 'You're upstairs in the adopted section.' A deep sense of unease growing inside him, Pat immediately rang his auntie Chrissie Stacey in Artane (she was Pat's last remaining relative) and told her Thomas' news.

Auntie Chrissie told Pat that he was adopted, too. Up until that second, Pat thought he was the son of Paddy, a cabinet maker who also made furniture for the church in Summerhill, and Margaret Henry.

Margaret died in 1988 and Paddy passed in 1990. Pat had a loving childhood with two great parents. So to be told that they weren't his 'birth' parents was unsettling.

"I couldn't believe what Chrissie was telling me. My wife Marie," Pat says referring to Marie, who he started dating in 1965 and married in 1969 (they have two children, Cathal, 43, and Karl. 33), "nearly fell over when I told her."

A few years later, through his own detective work, Pat eventually found his birth mother.

She reluctantly agreed to meet him for a coffee one day in Dublin's city centre. He found her cold and distant. There was no apology about what she had done. She simply told Pat she'd had a one-night stand in a Lawlor's Hotel in Naas in 1949 (Pat who was born in January 15, 1950). She also told him that his father was a turf cutter from Mayo and he was up in Naas at that time because he was cutting turf in the Curragh. Pat didn't believe her. He felt she was telling him a story to fob him off.

"I spoke to someone and they said that [a one-night stand] would be very unlikely to happen in a hotel in the late 1940s in Ireland," Pat says, adding that he believes that his birth mother, whom he won't name, was lying to him about his real dad for reasons only known to herself.

Pat subsequently found out that his mother, who died two years ago in her mid 80s, was from Clerihan, Tipperary. He believes that his dad was from there, too. "I know in my soul that someone in Clerihan knows who my dad was. It is a small village. Somebody has knowledge of him."

She told me she kept me for six months in a house in Rathmines, above a doctor's surgery. "Now maybe the doctor was involved, because in 1949 living above a doctor's place in Rathmines wouldn't have been normal. Then she told me she put an ad in the paper saying: 'Baby for adoption'. "Four people turned up," she told Pat, "and you were handed over."

There was no official documentation. Baby Pat was just passed like an illicit parcel in the night, never to be returned.

Sixty-six years later, Pat Henry doesn't need anyone, or any document, anymore to validate who he is. Or why he is. He has, he says, never been happier. "I'm in a very good place in my life. My gym is flying. Absolutely flying. There is no other gym like it in Ireland."

The business celebrated its 30th year in operation with a big party in Residence, on St Stephen's Green, last Friday night.

"I want to thank all the people who have helped me along the way - people like Gabriel Byrne, the late Chris Roche, the great Jim Aiken and Peter who introduced all the stars to the gym all those years ago and who are still coming to us to be trained, but most of all I want to thank my wife Marie," Pat says passionately, "Without her, and her love, I couldn't have done any of it."

Sunday Independent

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