A Florida woman who claims she is the daughter of controversial Irish priest Fr Michael Cleary is to seek DNA tests to prove her story.
Felicia Irwin was given up for adoption as a baby by mother Phyllis Hamilton, the housekeeper who was the mother of two sons by Fr Cleary, who was known in Ireland as the Singing Priest.
In her autobiography, the late Hamilton claimed Felicia was conceived when she was raped by a student priest who was later thrown out of the Catholic Church.
But Irwin has told the Irish Independent that Hamilton confessed later that Fr Clearly could be her father.
Now a Florida based mother of three, Irwin told the paper that she believes she is the biological daughter of the outspoken cleric.
She plans to undertake parental tests to determine if she is the third child of Fr Cleary, who died in 1993 aged 60.
The 29-year-old told the Irish Independent: “I was born in Florida. My mother came here when she was pregnant. She left almost immediately after I was born.
“I look just like my mother and I know that I have his (Cleary’s) traits... I know that she loved that man and she had me with him.”
The paper reports that the then 35-year-old Hamilton gave birth to Felicia in Fort Lauderdale in January 1985 when she went to stay with close friends, who later adopted the baby girl.
She had been Fr Cleary’s secret lover since 1967, disguising their romance with her job as his live-in housekeeper.
Felicia was their third child. Their first son, Douglas Boyd Barrett, was adopted while the second, Ross, was reared by Phyllis and Fr Michael Cleary.
The Irish Independent reveals that up to the time of her death in 2001, Phyllis confided that she was still unsure as to whether Felicia’s father was Michael Cleary or the deacon.
Irwin added: “I don’t want to be a child of rape. I’m scared of what the outcome may be. I was always told I would be shunned by the Catholic Church.
“I’ve heard nothing but good things about Fr Cleary, but I never met him as my father.
“I know who he (Cleary) was. He inspired a lot of people and I look up to that. I know who he was in the Church and in the community, and I know that people always looked up to him.”
Irwin only decided to speak out after a close friend of Father Cleary's denied that the cleric ever had any children with Hamilton.
Last June, Dublin priest Fr Arthur O’Neill described the original revelations as ‘exasperating, unproven and the result of shoddy practice by journalists.’
He added that Fr Cleary had suffered a ‘serious injustice. The burial of a person’s legacy deeper than their body just isn’t fair – if it’s based on a falsehood.’
Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin quickly dissociated himself and the church from Fr O’Neill’s outspoken comments.
DNA tests in 1999 confirmed Ross Hamilton is the son of Michael Cleary and Irwin now hopes that she can also undertake a similar test with the help of Ross Cleary.
Ross Hamilton visited Felicia in Florida five years ago and presented her with a pair of Claddagh earrings which had belonged to her mother.
She added: “The first thing Ross said when he walked in the door was ‘You look just like her’. He gave me a pair of earrings – gold Claddagh – that she (Phyllis) bought for me.
“I don’t have much, but I have a picture of my mother, myself and my adoptive father.”
“My adoptive mother told me she (Phyllis) had passed. I knew that was my last way to tell my story gone.
“I never heard anything and then, all of a sudden, I received a check in the mail. I inherited $15,500. I was told that she had it hidden for me. I inherited it when my daughter was four months old.
“It shocked me, but obviously I was on her mind. And I believe that she wanted me to be in her life.”