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Philomena's despair inspires campaign to open records

HER heartbreaking story is behind an Oscar-nominated movie and now Philomena Lee is to lead a campaign aimed at shaming the government into opening secret records on 60,000 forced adoptions.

Philomena's extraordinary story of her 50-year search for her late son Anthony has become the catalyst for a renewed battle to get access to birth certificates held by churches, religious orders, private agencies and health authorities.

Sixty years after the government legalised forced adoption for unmarried mothers, files still remain closed.

Philomena became pregnant in 1950s Ireland when the Catholic Church and society looked down on unmarried mothers.

She entered into a Mothers and Babies Home in July 1952 and gave birth to her son Anthony. Her little boy was taken from her when he was three years old and adopted by a couple who travelled from the US.

"He was taken the week before Christmas and I cried and cried and I think I drove the nuns mad," she said.

"For four or five years after they'd taken him I thought 'Why did they do this?' Within two weeks they had me over in Liverpool. I thought I'll try and start my new life now so I moved down to London."

DISCOVERED

Fifty years later, after one too many sherries, Philomena told her daughter Jane about Anthony and the two began a search to find him.

In 1995 – with the help of journalist Martin Sixsmith – they discovered Anthony, now known as Michael Hess, had died of AIDS.

The story has been made into the movie 'Philomena'.

It later emerged Anthony had returned to Sean Ross Abbey, where Philomena had stayed, on three separate occasions looking for his mother.

He was denied information about her even when he arrived at the Abbey severely ill.

Philomena returned from her home in London this week to recall her story and give hope to others in a similar situation.

"They told him that I had abandoned him at two weeks which I hadn't. I raised him for three-and-a-half years. And I saw him every evening," she said. "It's awful the thought of him dying thinking I had abandoned him. They said they knew nothing about me. But every time I moved address I wrote to them. They lied to a dying man."

The Adoption Rights Alliance believes more than 50,000 adoption files are currently being held by the HSE, private adoption agencies and Church representatives.

hnews@herald.ie


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