by Louise Doyle
AN Ardara woman who, almost three weeks ago, met a sister she never knew she had has been speaking of the emotional reunion.
For her whole life, Corinna McCallig had thought she was the eldest of a family of three siblings until November last when she received a letter ‘out of the blue’ which would completely change not only her life but those of her sister, Sarah and brother, Micheal. The correspondence, from Social Services, revealed Mrs McCallig and her siblings had a sister called Fanchea whom they never knew existed.
Sadly, Mrs McCallig’s mum lost her battle to cervical cancer in 1986 when she was aged just eight-years-old, never disclosing to her husband or children about the child she had given birth to in the mother-and-baby unit of Bessborough House in Cork six years before Mrs McCallig was born.
Speaking to the Donegal News, Mrs McCallig reflected on the life-changing news.
“We met with our sister the first time on Easter Saturday. We had no knowledge of her until we got a letter from letter from Social Services telling us that our mother had had a baby in the early 70s in Bessborough House. Our mother died when I was eight and my other siblings were aged six and four. We were all raised single-handedly by our father. It was a shock because even our dad didn’t know anything about Fanchea.
“Fanchea had contacted Social Services back in 2011 to say that she wanted to find her mother and she had medical reasons for wanting to do so too. She had known from a very early age from her adoptive parents that she had been adopted. She was taken back to Bessborough House when she was younger by her adoptive parents in a bid to find out some information on her biological mum. Records are very limited because they were either destroyed or just not kept but what she was able to find out was that our mum had stayed with her a little while after she was born.
“However, when word came back to Fanchea that our mum had passed away but that she had step-siblings she then had to make a decision on whether she wished to meet us and she decided that she wanted to. From there, I was visited by a social worker who liaised between Fanchea, my siblings and myself, and everything just happened so quickly. She wrote to us and we exchanged Christmas cards and photographs. We arranged to meet up and we all went together to meet in a hotel in Ardara for the first time.”
Continuing, Mrs McCallig, who is now 38-years-old, said she and her siblings were “very nervous” about meeting their long lost sister, who had been adopted by a couple from Kerry.
“One of my first thoughts were ‘what would mum want us to do?’ However, I know she would want us to be meet our sister.
“I expected it to be more awkward and lots of small talk but there was none of that. It was surreal, we were really nervous. One of the things I was really scared of was that if she looked like mammy because I thought that would have been very emotional for all of us. We sat and we chatted like we were mates. It was very natural. I know lots of questions will probably come at some stage. We have questions too but we don’t have the answers – only mammy has those.
“It was emotional but it went well. I have had emails and phone calls since. Fanchea has also met my father. It was a shock for him too because he never knew either but he is taking it well. We also took Fanchea to visit our mum’s grave.
“Before we met we had all wondered would we look alike or not. The three of us have blue eyes but Fanchea has green eyes like my mum had. However, a really funny thing we discovered was that we all have a morbid fear of the dentist!
Mrs McCallig, who is a mother-of-four, firmly believes that her mum would have been forced into giving her daughter up for adoption.
“My mum was originally from Ballybofey but she moved when she married my father. We have been through a range of emotions. I was very emotional for my two siblings because they don’t really remember our mum. I have the firm belief that if mum was still alive she would have tried to find Fanchea. Although a mother who adopts a child can’t go looking herself she can put her name on a register which would make it easier if their child ever wanted to come look for them.
In a poignant legacy to her mum, Mrs McCallig, who is a well-known community activist, first became involved in lobbying when campaigning for women in Donegal to have access to free smear tests, after losing her mum to cervical cancer. Poignantly, Mrs McCallig had also in the past helped lobby for ‘Justice for the Magdalenes’ before knowing she had a long-lost sister.
Now with plans to visit her sister in Kerry in the summertime, Mrs McCallig offered advice to anyone out there who may be searching for a long lost relative.
“I would encourage others in the same boat to go for it. Take it as a positive that have someone else in your life. I now have a sister and another niece. I have taken a huge positive from the whole experience. While there’s no certainly for those searching that there will be a good outcome at the end of it, you never know unless you try.”
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