A photo of young Tony Kelly as a child.

Adoption revelation for care system survivor after 70 years

FOR Tony Kelly, who spent his early life in a variety of care settings, life's jigsaw is never complete.

Seventy years after he was fostered by a family in Swinford, he has now discovered that he was in fact adopted.

Tony's surname was never changed to his new family's name, so he never gave it much thought, knowing and believing all his life that he was fostered.

A recent trawl through some old legal documents he requested from previous dealings with various State agencies have put him on the search again to find out 'Who am I?' and the processes that took him to where he ended up.

Like all survivors of the mother and baby care system, getting answers to that question has been a decades-long, arduous journey. The latest leg in that voyage of discovery revealed that yes, Tony was adopted. And the adoption, it turns out, was illegal.

The adoption was confirmed in a copy of a receipt from the admission books of the Catholic Protection and Rescue Society of Ireland. It is recorded as having taken place in October 1952. Adoption only became legal in 1953.

Tony has also had a signature on his relinquishing papers from 1950 analysed and is satisfied that they were not in fact signed by his mother.

Tony's life story has been made into a film, which was due for release here soon. But now there is another chapter to be added, and he's in discussions with its US-based producer, Margaret Costa of Aries Productions in Connecticut, to incorporate this latest twist.

Dublin-born Tony spent 16 years in nine different foster homes and institutions, coming to Swinford when he was 5½.

All along the way he has been frustrated in his efforts to find out where he came from. He did eventually establish who his parents, from Co. Meath, were and reconnected with the siblings he never knew he had.

He was his mother's first child and he has a treasured photo of her early in her pregnancy.

However, at the start of his journey Tony was sent on a wild goose chase where he was told his mother came from Mayo.

He was 'put down' as belonging to a woman of the same name as his birth mum, but medical records later showed this lady had multiple births and was 10 years older. Tony had met her children, after she had died, and they welcomed him as a sibling.

A DNA test subsequently proved they were not related.

In his appeals to the clergy for information from his birth in 1946, he was told information was 'scant'. He was told that he appeared to have 'done very well' for himself and as a young man was advised to 'look towards the future rather than the past'.

Tony was also put through the torture of attending his actual birth mother's funeral, though at the time he didn't know it was her. He says of the experience how he felt drawn to her coffin and had looked to see the name in the cards on it.

Later, finding out that it had been his mum really affected him.

Over the years there has been 'nothing but false hope, false information'. "I have fought to get to the bottom of it, one way or another," he says.

As he sets out on another journey of questioning the State about his so-called adoption, Tony says it's cruel, the manner in which survivors are treated. "I can trace back what I had for my dinner or if I buy a meal in a restaurant, but we can't find out where we come from."

* Since this interview, the Birth Information and Tracing Bill that will enable adopted people and other groups access their birth information was signed into law by President Michael D. Higgins.

Tony Kelly has expressed deep reservations that the legislation will deliver for those affected.