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Dublin: 7 °C Friday 19 April, 2019
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Column: I'm a Bethany Home survivor and, at 74 years old, I'm finally happy

A Bethany Home survivor, who now lives in Australia, writes about how his time in the home shaped and damaged his life and his journey to find out the truth about his birth.

Bethany infants unmarked graves in Mount Jerome Cemetary in Dublin
Bethany infants unmarked graves in Mount Jerome Cemetary in Dublin

I AM ONE of the Bethany survivors group. I live in Sydney, Australia, which has been my home for the last 40 years.

I was born in the Bethany Home Rathgar, but I was adopted by a family from Belfast. This family was very wealthy, however I had a terrible life with them. They abused me on daily basis. I left their home at the tender age of 14 never to return.

I became an alcoholic

I got married and had three children, but I was a drunk. Life was terrible and I was in hospital many times. We came to Australia hoping for a better life, however I continued drinking. I was to meet an Irishman who convinced me that I could get better. I have not had a drink for over 30 years and thankfully, I have a wonderful life. I served as Deputy Mayor here and also assisted the Irish Olympic Team during the Sydney Games.

After starting the long journey to recovery it was suggested to me that I should look into my background as this was one of the many problems I had. I contacted a solicitor in Ireland and instructed him to find my mother and what had happened.

I never knew I was born in Dublin as the papers I had showed  that I was born in Belfast. I found my mother, but regretfully she had died just months before. She had seven sisters and I made a very emotional visit to Castlederg to visit one of them. That was a wonderful time in my life as I discovered I had a family.

The mystery around my identity

I found that my name was Maurice Johnston, so I went to Dublin and obtained a copy of my birth certificate and went to Rathgar to look at where I was born. I have had some health issues and most of these according to my doctor were a result of my treatment in Bethany. I found out about Bethany Survivors group by accident when I was looking for information on Bethany and I came across Derek Leinster, Chairperson Bethany Survivors Group.

Derek has become a good friend and without his help my anger and depression would be a lot worse. He has himself taken on this task and I know I speak for all of us when I say he has helped a lot of people understand why they feel different.

One of the strange problems involves my passport. I applied for a visa to visit USA, but the passport office came back and told me that there was no record of a Paul Graham being born in Dublin nor was there any record of a Paul Graham being born in Belfast.

The only person that understood

Eventually, we finally got the visa. I spoke to the Irish embassy about this and they said that as I had an Irish birth certificate it was legally possible to issue me a passport under my name of Maurice Johnston however they said it could cause a lot of legal problems.

I often wished that my childhood could have been different; I would love to have been normal and become perhaps a doctor, however this was not to be. I am now 74 and I have the beginnings of dementia, but I am finally happy after all these years. I have three wonderful children who have stood by me and a wonderful wife of 53 years.

She is only person who has understood that I was not bad, just sick.

Bethany Home survivors to Taoiseach: “Please do not treat us differently”>

Bethany Home survivors: ‘State ignored us as children, and is still ignoring us’>

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About the author:

Paul Graham

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