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Harry Foley as a young boy.

Column 'At aged 48, I found out I was adopted. When I found my mother, it was too late'

It took Harry Foley 20 years to find his brother and sisters in Ireland. He said the State need to take hold of the situation and apologise.

I WAS BORN on 9 February 1945 in the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin. I was baptised on the 17 February 1945 and named Henry Anthony Foley.

I lived my life believing that I was an only child and a happy child up until my father died on the 4 Nov 1954 and his death changed everything.

My mothers’ family were very kind to me all of my life and treated me well. As my mam was getting older she became ill and I was spending a lot of time travelling back and forth to Dublin to tend to her.


It was after one of these visits that I was visiting some cousins of mine when they said they had something to tell me. That is when the bomb dropped and they told me I was adopted.

Just like that, what I knew turned upside down. I was 48 years old.

To be honest I was not that shocked. For years after my dad died a distance grew between my mother and I.

My quest to find out who I am and the circumstances surrounding my adoption started with me first asking my mother for any information she might have.

She denied it at first. She was adamant, but eventually she conceded a few details. She said she had been sworn to secrecy by the priest saying if she told me the truth she wouldn’t get to heaven.

Philomena Lee 

Philomena Lee was very lucky that she had Martin Sixsmith help her with her search for her son, but for thousands of other people it is a lonely task, fighting the Church and the authorities in Ireland.

I pounded the streets of Dublin visiting various institutions and made enquiries with the Adoption Board, but I there was little help for me. 

After a lot of walking and talking I was just about to give up when I was told about the The Rotunda Girls Aid Society (RGAS) and paid them a visit. They told me that there was good news and bad news – the good being that I was on their books, the bad that I was illegally adopted and to add insult to injury they could not give me any information about who I was. They gave me a card showing my date of birth, my name, weight and time of birth.

I was asked to write a letter to my birth mother and that they would try to contact her and tell her about me. From this, the RGAS told me that I had brothers and sisters.

My family

It was five years ago that I was put in touch with my two brother and two sisters. However, I found out that his mother had already died. I was 65 years old and had been searching for my family for over twenty years.

I was welcomed with open arms by my brothers and sisters. They said they had an inkling that something was different, but they thought that their mother had lost a baby, they never thought in a million years that I had been put up for adoption.

It is wonderful to have found them and we are still very much in touch. I visit Ireland once a year and I stay with them over there. All the families have met, all my children have met all their children and it is a huge family.

The search caused an awful lot of upset, not just for me, but to my entire family. I just felt I had to follow it through to the end, but it was without any question, or consideration for anyone else, like my wife. It really did place a lot of stress on my family relationships.


We’ve talked for years about the abuse carried out by the Church, but this withholding of information from people is also abuse. They are hiding behind this cloak of confidentiality.

It was time for the Government to take those responsible to task. This was still going on in the 70s and 80s and some of the perpetrators are still walking around as this is all getting swept under the carpet.

The State need to take hold of the situation and apologise. That is all I ever wanted. An apology. These secrets destroy lives and they destroy families. What they have done is stolen our identities and there is no road back for people like us, which is wrong, because every soul on this earth has a right to know who they are. Pressure should be put on these people to try and find each and every one of us and offer support and help.

We shouldn’t be forgotten

Harry is 70 years old and lives in Bedfordshire in the UK.

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