Man reunited with Irish family nuns claimed were dead

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Paddy Monaghan was sent from a children's home in Northern Ireland to Australia in the 1940s.

As a boy, he was told all his relatives were dead. Now, after more than 40 years of searching, he has found them - alive and well in County Fermanagh.

Image caption,
Paddy Monaghan was told his family were dead before being sent to a children's home in Australia

Paddy Monaghan's face breaks into a wide grin when I ask how it feels to have found his family after more than 40 years of searching.

"It feels great. I've always longed to be able to have somebody with my blood in them. I didn't think it was ever going to happen," he said.

I first met Paddy in Perth, Australia, while working for BBC Northern Ireland's Spotlight programme.

I was reporting on the plight of more than 100 children sent to the country as part of a government migration scheme after WW2.

The vast majority of children were sent to Australia by the Sisters of Nazareth from homes in Belfast and Londonderry. Paddy Monaghan was one of them.

Media caption,

Paddy Monaghan says his life is complete after being reunited with his relatives

His mother put him into the care of the nuns in 1937, when he was just two weeks old, and he was sent to Australia at the age of ten.

He was told his mother, father and all of his relatives were dead.

But Paddy never believed what he was told and began searching for his family in 1965, when he was 28 years-old.

When I met him, he had been searching for 37 years.

He had visited Ireland, but the Sisters of Nazareth repeatedly told him he had been an orphan and that they could find no records of his mother.

A father of three sons and a daughter, he was desperate to be able to tell them where he had come from, but was close to giving up.

His wife, Jackie. encouraged him to keep looking.

"Everybody needs a family," she said. "Everybody needs to know who they are and where they came from."

Image caption,
Vincent Kearney poses with Paddy Monaghan and his wife, Jackie, who encouraged him to keep searching for his family

As I left his house on the outskirts of Perth, Paddy asked me for my business card and promised to call me if he ever managed to find the family he was told did not exist.

On Friday, October 3, my office phone rang.

"Hello Vincent," said a voice with a distinct Australian accent.

"Remember me? It's Paddy Monaghan. I told you I'd call if I found my family and I have."

Paddy called me from his cousin's house about 10 miles outside Belleek in County Fermanagh.

I went to see him and found him surrounded by cousins and laughter.

Image caption,
Paddy Monaghan and his wife Jackie with his long lost family members in Belleek, County Fermanagh. The relatives are Maggie Lawne (far left), Fiona O'Connor-Surmel (centre) and Theresa O'Connor (far right).

"People kept telling me I didn't have a single living relation on this earth, and now I've got hundreds of them," he said.

He took me the short distance along a winding lane to the farmhouse where his mother, Bridget, had lived.

"I walk up and down the lane where she would have walked, and all of my other ancestors," he said.

"It just made my life complete finding that I had a family, and I could go and see where they lived, where they walked, where they worked."

Image source, Photo from Vincent Kearney
Image caption,
Paddy's mother Bridget (above) died in 1999, two years after he visited Ireland trying to find her

Paddy had finally found his family in 2009.

The breakthrough was a letter his mother gave the Sisters of Nazareth declaring that she was putting him into their care.

The letter included a cover note from a priest recommending him for adoption. After 46 years of searching, he was able to trace his relatives within two weeks.

But it was too late for a reunion with his mother. She died in 1999, two years after he first visited Ireland trying to find her.

"I was just so shocked when I was told that," he recalls.

"I was here in 1997 and the nuns told me they had no record of my mother. They kept that letter for 72 years. If they had given it to me earlier it could have helped me find my mother when she was still alive."

A laid back, jovial character, Paddy remains angry that the Sisters of Nazareth did not tell him the truth.

"I wrote a letter to the nuns. I said the nuns, when they teach the children, tell you not to lie or you'll go to hell.

"I just said there will be a lot of you people down in hell, because they just lied all the way through.

"I could have met my mother if people had been honest. I could have maybe had 20 years with my mother, but I didn't have any years at all."

Image caption,
Paddy finally found his family in 2009. The breakthrough was a letter his mother gave the Sisters of Nazareth declaring that she was putting him into their care

Now aged 78, Paddy says the long years of searching were worth it.

"It's a great feeling to actually find somebody who belongs to you. And you belong to them.

"I'm a very happy man now. My grandchildren will know who their family were."