Philomena Lee, whose heartbreaking search for her adopted son became a major movie, has appealed to other women and children who spent time in mother and baby homes to give testimony to a new Commission of Investigation set up by the Irish government.
She and the son she was forced by nuns to give up for adoption at the age of three spent their adult lives searching for each other and never met until, with the help of former BBC foreign reporter Martin Sixsmith, she found his grave back in Ireland.
Lee was single when she gave birth to her son Anthony in the early 1950s. The shame felt by her family forced her into a mother and baby home in Roscrea, Co. Tipperary.
Her son was adopted by an American couple who renamed him Mike Hess, and he eventually became senior counsel for President George Bush Senior.
The Roscrea home run by nuns is now one of 14 institutions to be part of a far-reaching probe scanning the years from 1922 to 1998 by the commission, which will be chaired by Judge Yvonne Murphy, who formerly headed a damning inquiry into clerical sexual abuses in the Catholic Church in Dublin.
Her new investigation, announced by Children’s Minister Dr. James Reilly last week, will take three years and cost €21 million.
It was prompted by research by historian Catherine Corless which found 796 children were buried in a mass grave at a former home run by nuns in Tuam, Co. Galway.
Reilly said the commission may produce evidence on illegal adoptions, which could warrant prosecutions. The commission will also investigate if there was concealment of children’s parentage.
The minister agreed that the recent admission by the Adoption Authority that thousands of illegal adoptions may have taken place in Ireland could lead to the commission informing the Gardai of such practices and to prosecutions where appropriate.
The commission, which will conduct most of its work in private, will have a confidential forum to hear the accounts of past residents.
Lee told the Irish Independent, “I encourage those women and children to come forward -- even anonymously -- to give their testimony as I have done myself, so that every corner is properly investigated and all those affected receive justice.”