By David Hennessy
Hundreds of mourners joined Philomena Lee has returned to Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea to visit the grave of her son, Michael A Hess on Sunday June 1.
81-year-old Philomena, who comes from Newcastle West and now lives in London, attended the first annual service to honour mothers and children who died in the care of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary and who are buried on the property. Philomena was joined by her children, Jane and John.
It is still not known how many mothers and children were buried in the grounds as many were given only unmarked graves.
The service included readings from now adult children born at Sean Ross.
Philomena was at the Abbey’s mother and baby home when she gave birth to her son Anthony in 1952. Forced to give her son up for adoption, Anthony grew up in America and was known by the name given to him by his adopted family. Michael was chief counsel to the Bush and Reagan administrations but died of AIDS in 1995.
Philomena did not get to know her son as when she travelled to America to find him, it was too late. However, Michael wanted to be buried in the land of his birth and rests in the grounds of Roscrea’s Abbey.
The tragic tale was made into the film Philomena starring Judi Dench in the lead role.
There are many women who have similar stories. One of the organisers Susan Lohan of the Adoption Rights Alliance said the event will be held “until we get the fulsome apology from the State”.
Philomena’s story has brought forced adoption in Ireland to the international consciousness. Philomena revealed her feelings about the discovery of a mass grave of nearly 800 bodies in the septic tank of a home for unmarried mothers in Tuam. The Daily Mail quote Philomena as saying: “’It’s not about getting angry, it’s about doing what’s right and it’s about opening all the files. Maybe the State never thought the mass graves would be found out about. They seem to be wanting to push it under the carpet, but it needs to be told. I don’t know how many bodies of mothers and children are in graves all over the country. I’m shocked at the latest news of the mass grave [at Tuam] – it’s appalling and shouldn’t be hidden.”