Sunday 22 April 2018

Sisters launch fresh appeal to help trace their birth mother 50 years after they were separated from her and sent to an industrial school

Nora Gormley at a family wedding. The photo is believed to have been taken some time in the 1960's. Photo: Eileen Gormley
Nora Gormley at a family wedding. The photo is believed to have been taken some time in the 1960's. Photo: Eileen Gormley

Sasha Brady

Eileen Gormley (62) and her sister Bridget (54) are trying to locate the mother they haven't seen in 50 years. The women and their late sister Rosaleen were sent to Banada industrial school in Tubbercurry, Sligo when they were just children.

Their mother, Nora Agnes Gormley (or Gormanley as it reads on her birth certificate), was born in Cloonfeightrin on the Mayo/Sligo border in 1934.

She gave birth to two daughters in the 1950s while living at home with her parents in Chaffpool outside Tubbercurry.

Eileen and her younger sister, who had special needs, lived with her mother Nora and her grandparents in Chaffpool. Her grandmother died in 1960. The following January of 1961, Nora gave birth to Bridie, her third and youngest daughter.

The girls, who didn't know their father, were taken to Banada Primary and Secondary school run by a religious order and lost trace of her mother.

"Once our grandmother wasn't there to take care of us, the three of us were put into an industrial school. She was the backbone of the family and without her there was a lot of chaos," Eileen said when speaking to the Anton Savage Show on Today FM.

"There was nobody else to really care for us. There was a lot of pressure on the family. They lived in poverty.

"I went [to the industrial school] when I was six and a half. There were a lot of kids there. When I went there I developed many illnesses like measles, mumps and jaundice.

"I was sick quite a bit but I got good care. Everybody has their own experience in a place like that so I can only say for myself. It was tough. The food wasn't great you know, things like that.

While living in the industrial school, the girls were visited by members of their family on occasion, including their mother but the visits soon stopped.

"Some relatives visited. They were brought up to the front parlour and we were brought to meet them. I heard from relations that she came to visit us when we got there but after a while it stopped," said Eileen.

Leaving school Eileen was determined to reconnect with her birth mother but those plans were put on the backburner when she landed a job with a local family.

"I had determination in my brain that I must find this woman. I was 15. I was young and full of life.

"One day I was taking the kids from the family for a walk when this lady on a bicycle approached me. She said 'Are you Eileen Gormley?', I said I was and then she told me that my mother was looking for me.

Eileen said she was shocked to find that she was living in the same area as her mother.

"I didn't know where I was from. I didn't even know I was from Tubercurry. I just remember being brought up to the school in a car by a nun," she said.

She was shaken by the information but, much to her regret now, didn't follow it up.

“At 15 you just don't know what to do. I was scared so I just left but that was the last we heard about her," she said.

Eileen said she regrets not speaking to anyone about it at the time, especially the family she worked for as they may have been able to help.

"It's a pity I didn't ask but in those days you just didn't talk about these things," she explained.

Her sister Bridget began looking for their mother in the 90's, shortly after their sister Rosaleen passed away in institutional care.

Eileen, who has spent 20 years living in Africa, joined in the search in 2014.

The two women also enlisted the help of Padraic Grennan from Finders International - a genealogy organisation that helps people trace their family.

Speaking to the Anton Savage Show, Padraic said that the extensive search has moved outside of Ireland.

"We have to consider that Eileen's mum may have moved abroad," he said.

"She had siblings in London and aunts in Chicago and Illinois. We're waiting on a worldwide search on birth, marriage and death certificates that match her name.

"Hopefully something here today might help someone trigger a memory that will generate a lead for us," he added.

The family have just one photo of Nora taken at a wedding some time in the 1960s. Through the grainy image it's clear she was small in stature with dark hair and a heart-shaped face.

Their mother, if she's still alive, will turn 82 on May 28 and the women want to connect with her while they still have time.

"In those days things were different, people left... but I want to reach her before it's too late," said Eileen.

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