By Michael McDonagh
Geraldine Marsh, 84, originally from Portlaoise and now living in Wimbledon, buys the Irish World regularly every week.
Last May, whilst browsing through the paper she was astonished to read an article that brought back to her many memories from her distant past.
Back in the 1950s, as a naïve seventeen-year-old in the socially repressed Ireland of that time when unmarried mothers were outcasts, Geraldine found out herself seven months pregnant with no family support.
A kind neighbour took pity on her and introduced her to Frank Duff’s Regina Coeli (trans. Queen of Heaven) home, a home very unlike the Magdalene Laundries, in that the women and girls having babies ‘out of wedlock’ were allowed to keep their infants with them.
We now know from heart-rending true stories like Philomena, among others, how so many unfortunate mothers had their babies taken from them and given up for adoption – their children sent to places like Australia, America, or even England, where their mothers would never see them again.
Regina Coeli accepted Geraldine and after her son was born at the nearby Rotunda Maternity Hospital, she lived there for nearly four years.
She left her young son in the care of nuns in Wicklow and came over to England to find for work and to start a new life.
She married and was able to be reunited with her son, then aged four, and it all ended happily ever after – today she has several grandchildren and great-grandchildren and enjoys her life in London.
What brought it all back was an article in the Irish World about the book Secret Child by Gordon Lewis who was born back in the Regina Coeli home in the 1950s.
The book told Gordon’s mother’s story which was so very similar to Geraldine’s. Geraldine got in touch and we put her in touch with Gordon.
Last week Gordon invited Geraldine to his London home where she was filmed talking about her life and experiences in those days and about her new life in England in the hope that Regina Coeli ‘alumni’ will come forward for their stories to be told and recorded on film as a historical archive.
Meanwhile, Gordon Lewis is developing the story as a potential TV series or feature film and says he has had an expression of interest from Pierce Brosnan, currently filming in Abu Dhabi, and who read the book.
Gordon says the former James Bond star has indicated he would like to be involved with the project if it proceeds past development.
Geraldine told me: “I buy the Irish World every week to get all the news and if it had not been for you and the Irish World I would not have been here to meet Gordon and to have had this lovely day out and the chance to talk about those days.
“I’m still friends with two other girls, who were there with us and I hope that there are more people who will come forward so we can all be filmed, and our stories told.”