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St Patrick's

'You couldn't write that': Son who found out he was adopted 50 years later takes Catholic adoption agency to High Court

Tressa Reeves claims her son was unlawfully taken from her, and she was denied information about him for decades.

LAST UPDATE | 3 Jul 2018

File Photo A MAN WHO had been known to homeless services in Dublin city centre has died. The man – believed to have been a foreign national – was discovered unresponsive in the area around the Four Courts in Dublin on Monday evening. He was rushed to The case is being heard before the High Court. Sasko Lazarov / Sasko Lazarov / /

A DAMAGES CLAIM brought by a woman and her son who was adopted shortly after she gave birth to him in the early 1960s against a Catholic Adoption agency has opened before the High Court.

During her search Tressa Reeves, nee Donnelly, from Surrey in England said she was given the brush off and told that the boy she named Andre was placed with a family in the United States.

Despite being fobbed off for many years, it is claimed, he had been placed with a family living in Carlow where he was named Patrick Farrell.

She claims the placement was not lawful and without the legal safeguards provided under the adoption laws.

After a long battle for information, she and her son Patrick Farrell from Tullow in Carlow were finally reunited in 2013.

As a result, the mother and son have sued the St Patrick’s Adoption Society and Ireland, and the Attorney General seeking damages.

They claim that the defendants made false misrepresentations concerning her son’s location, deceit and failed to provide them with information about each other that the plaintiffs were entitled to.

It is also claimed there was a failure to protect their family rights and that the son was placed with a couple, Maeve and James Farrell, whose suitability was never assessed.

Her son seeks damages and exemplary damages on grounds including that his Constitutional rights were breached.

It is alleged the State failed to vindicate or recognise the mother and son’s rights.

The claims are denied.

‘A bombshell’

Giving testimony this afternoon, Farrell described how learning in 2012 he had been “illegally adopted” was a “bombshell”.

Patrick ‘Paddy’ Farrell, also known as Andre Donnelly, said he was shocked when he discovered in late 2012 that he was not the child of the now deceased Maeve and Jim Farrell from Tullow, Co Carlow.

He outlined to the court his feelings of finding out about his illegal adoption, meeting his long lost family, and the violence he suffered at the hands of his adoptive father.

Following a communication from the Adoption Authority of Ireland in late 2012 he was informed he had been illegally adopted and a meeting was arranged in early 2013 with his birth mother Tressa Reeves.

After 50 years of being Paddy Farrell, he said he discovered he was Andre Donnelly.

“You couldn’t write that,” he said.

He met his birth mother in early 2013. He said it was a controlled and very strange meeting arranged at the Adoption Authority’s offices, where they were told not to exchange personal details.

He said after the meeting he spoke to his mother in the carpark, and they went for a coffee and had “a good old natter” in a hotel where they exchanged phone numbers and addresses.

He was giving evidence to his counsel Eanna Mulloy SC on the first day of his and his birth mother’s damages action against the Saint Patrick’s Guild (Incorporated) adoption society and the State over the circumstances of his adoption.

They deny his claims and those taken by his birth mother Tressa Donnelly Reeves, who spent decades looking for her son following his birth in Dublin in March 1961.

When asked by his counsel about his feelings over his mothers’ quest to find him Farrell said he was “very angry” and “words fail me”, that she was “given the run around for years and years and years and years”.

He said the lot of them “should be shot” for what they had done to her.

He said he and his family had suffered after he found out about he had been adopted.

After 50 years being Paddy Farrell he was told in late 2012 that he was born Andre Donnelly. “Where do you start?” he said telling the court that he now has two birth certs.


He has been given the option of getting all his official identifications changed from Patrick Farrell to Andre Donnelly.

Things had been difficult for him and his family as he became preoccupied with and tried to come to terms with being adopted, particularly when word got out in the small community where he lives.

His work was also affected and he left a good job working on the Luas for a lower-paid job closer to home.

He said he had attended for counselling but the people dealing with him were not able to help him.

He said that he “got on very well” with the Donnelly family, but told the court that “you cannot buy time, and how can you get back even the last 20 years” adding that he “never got to do the things an elder brother does for his sisters”.

His biggest regret was that he never got to meet one sister who passed away in 2006.

However, he had erected a monument to her by building a garden in her honour at his home, where he said he felt at peace.

This contrasted with Mr Farrell’s description of the violence he suffered at the hands of his adoptive father Jim Farrell. While Maeve Farrell had doted on him, his father was often extremely violent towards the family.

He told the court of several incidents where he was beaten and injured by his father. He said his father broke the knuckles in his right hand with a hurley after he (Paddy) lost a handball match in Croke Park.

His father also struck with a part of a plough, leaving him requiring 32 stitches, after he was outside playing in his good confirmation clothes.

He said as a young child he was beaten all the way to school by his father after Paddy intervened when his father was violently beating his wife (Maeve).

His father he said also took him out of school early to work in the family business when he would have preferred to go on and do his Leaving Cert.

‘Bad for the child’

Earlier, in opening the case Mulloy for the mother and son said Donnelly was from a highly respectable family in England, which was very religious, and had connections in Ireland.

His client became pregnant shortly before her 21st birthday. It was then arranged for her to travel to Ireland, for work experience and she ended up at a house in Clontarf in Dublin through the St Patrick’s Guild, which was run by the Sisters of Charity Nuns.

Counsel said she gave birth to a boy on 13 March 1961 at the Marie Clinic in Clontarf.

She was “sternly warned”, not to touch the newborn as it would be “bad for the child”, who was to be put up for adoption.

However she defied this warning, counsel said, and baptised him with holy water she had in the home in the hope that someday she would find him.

Shortly afterwards she was taken away and signed various forms consenting to the adoption. Counsel said the form was “false”.

Counsel said the documents she signed were legal nullities and had none of the normal safeguards required.

In addition, counsel said the contents of the form about the mother’s details were fudged and lacking in detail.

Counsel said that over the years his client, following her marriage and the birth of her other children, made visits to Ireland in attempts to get information about her son without much success.

She was brushed off by the nuns she dealt with at the Guild, it was said, and a person who worked at the place where she gave birth to her son suggested the boy was among those infants who went to the USA.

Sent from ‘Billy to Jack’

Over the years counsel said that she got very limited information from the society, and was sent around to “Billy to Jack” and told she was not entitled to information on the basis of a right to privacy that the Farrells were entitled to.

Counsel said the Farrells were never entitled to such a right to privacy and did not trump his client’s rights.

When she did get the file, she discovered the names of the family who adopted her son had been blacked out.

Counsel said that the adoption agency continued “a good, slow attitude” which was adopted when it came to providing information to Reeves.

She was eventually reunited with her son Patrick Farrell/Andre Donnelly in 2013, but counsel said she was “duped and cheated, through and through”.

Counsel said his adoptive father subjected him to extreme violence, who over the years inflicted several serious injuries on him, including breaking his front teeth, and breaking his hand after he lost a handball match.

The case before Mr Justice Denis McDonald continues and is expected to last for several days.

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Aodhan O Faolain