Tag Archives: Philomena Lee

Philomena Lee (above fourth right) with members of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home Alliance at the grave  (top) of Philomena’s son Michael Hess (born Anthony) 


Sean Ross Abbey, Roscrea, County Tipperary.

Tuam survivors joined the annual pilgrimage taken by Philomena Lee a to commemorate her forcibly-adopted son ‘Anthony’.

Anthony was sold to an American couple and he arranged to be buried at the Abbey in the hope that his mother would find his grave.

Philomena’s story was dramatised in a 2013 film starring Judi Dench,

Breeda Murphy, of the Tuam and Baby Home Alliance, writes:

We attended the Memorial yesterday at Sean Ross where Philomena was in attendance with her daughter Jane. She truly is an incredible lady. Returning year on year to speak at the event remembering her beloved son, Anthony known as Michael Hess who is buried on the site.


Pics: Breeda Murphy


From top: Philomena Lee and her daughter Jane Libberton at the graveside at Sean Ross Abbey, Roscrea, Co Tipperary at a private memorial for her son Anthony Lee (Michael Anthony Hess)

This morning.

On Today with Sean O’Rourke.

Philomena Lee and her daughter Jane Libberton spoke to Mr O’Rourke in light of the ‘significant quantities of human remains’ being found at the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Co Galway.

Readers will recall how, in 1952, Philomena gave birth to her son Anthony [Michael Anthony Hess] at Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea, Co Tipperary.

She was subsequently forced to give him up for adoption and he was sent to America. He died in 1995.

Philomena was portrayed by Judi Dench in the movie Philomena.

From this morning’s interview:

Sean O’Rourke: “Jane, good morning to you.”

Jane Libberton: “Good morning, Sean.”

O’Rourke: “And thank you for coming on the line. Now, we know, just looking, particularly, a lot of interesting reporting, invaluable reporting done on this by The Irish Examiner [Conall Ó Fátharta], but in 2011, the Sisters of the Sacred Heart who operated the Sean Ross Abbey, they gave figures to the Health Service Executive [HSE] showing there were 269 deaths at that home between 1934 and ’67 – a period of just over three decades. Now, the paper has reported that some of those buried in the plot on the site, they are not on that register. So, the number may be higher. So I’m just wondering do you support the view that maybe there should be excavations also at Sean Ross Abbey?”

Libberton: “Yes, I do, absolutely. In fact, I think they should be conducted in all mother and baby homes. We’ve been there, to the plot, several times, and we recently spoke to a young man, there was a man, sorry, in his younger days, he was a gardener there. Now, he said that, years ago, him and I think maybe his father, or some other chap, they’d gone to clean the angels’ plot as they call it now. And he went in there and they started to dig the place and they said that they came across bones, you know, not very far down, three or four inches down in the ground.”

“And so, they didn’t know what to do about it, at that time. And I think they didn’t say anything at that time because I think that they wouldn’t have been believed.”

Listen back in full here

Names of dead infants at Bessborough and Roscrea were given to the HSE in 2011 (Conall Ó Fátharta, Irish Examiner)

Pics: Mark Stedman/Photocall and Adoption Rights Alliance

Screen Shot 2014-09-17 at 10.56.13

Tonight on BBC2, Martin Sixsmith (author of Philomena) goes on a journey to investigate the Irish Catholic Church’s role in an adoption trade which saw thousands of ‘illegitimate’ children taken from their mothers and sent abroad, often with donations to the Church flowing in the other direction.

In Ireland and in America, Martin hears the moving stories of the parents and children whose lives were changed forever and discovers evidence that prospective parents were not properly vetted – sometimes with tragic consequences.

He also witnesses the struggle of mother and child in their attempts to find each other across continents before it is too late. With no one willing to help and information scarce, for some it feels like after all these years the Catholic Church is still trying to keep them apart.

On BBC Two tonight at 9pm and RTÉ One tomorrow at 10:15pm.

Ireland’s Lost Babies (BBC)

Previously: After Philomena

The Art Of Storytelling

Anything Good On BBC News At Ten?

[Philomena Lee and Jane Libberton at the launch of the Philomena Project in Dublin in January]

You’ll recall how Philomena, her daughter, Jane Libberton, and journalist Martin Sixsmith, launched the Philomena Project in Dublin last January.

The aim of the project is to help ensure every mother and child that wishes to be reunited can do so.

The Mail on Sunday reported yesterday [not online] that more than 13,000 files held by the Catholic adoption agency, St Patrick’s Guild, are to be handed over to the State by the end of December.

Alison O’Reilly wrote:

“More than 13,000 files held by a controversial Catholic-run adoption agency that has admitted organising illegal adoptions are to be handed over to the State in December. St Patrick’s Guild arranged thousands of adoptions between the 1940s and 1970s, including the secret export of 572 children to the US. It no longer arranges adoptions, although it still helps with search queries. But it has been criticised for stonewalling people who were adopted through it and who have spent decades trying to trace their birth families. The Child and Family Agency has now announced that the Guild will close at the end of the year.”

Mrs Lee was single and 18 when she was pregnant and sent to a Catholic residential home for unmarried mothers in Roscrea, County Tipperary. When her son was three, she was forced to give him up for adoption and her son was sent to the US. Even though they both searched for each other in subsequent years, he died before she ever saw him again.

The Philomena Project

Previously: Identities Withheld

(Mark Stedman/Photocall Irelan)

(Top Judi Dench as Philomena Lee and Steve Coogan as Martin Sixsmith, Bill Donohue of the Catholic League)

Bill Donohue of the Catholic League offers his version of Philomena Lee’s life story of Catholic Ireland of the 1950s.

It should also attract attention for what it really is: a cruel caricature of nuns that is based on half truths and out and out lies. That it appeals to the worst appetite in anti-Catholic bigots is not debatable.

The film smears the Irish Catholic Church much the way “The Magdalene Sisters” did. That tale of woe was clearly discredited with the release of the McAleese Report last year, a study authorized by the Irish government.

Just as we would not expect a Palestinian-made movie of Israel to be fair, Irish Catholics do not expect that a film crafted by the English to ring true.

The Weinstein boys, Harvey and Bob, are the perfect duo to distribute the movie in the U.S.Their previous gifts to Catholicism include the film, “Priest,” a tale of five morally debased priests; a flick that stars Sinead O’Connor as a foul-mouthed Virgin Mary, “Butcher Boy”; one that features a descendant of Mary and Joseph who works in an abortion clinic, “Dogma”; a movie that ridicules Catholics about sex, “40 Days and 40 Nights”; a big screen portrayal of vicious nuns, “The Magdalene Sisters”; a depiction of Santa as a vulgar, drunken, sexual predator, “Bad Santa” ; and “Black Christmas,” a dark comedy made especially for the holidays.

But as we shall see, the nuns never “took” the baby, and never sold him.


Read in full here. (162 kB PDF)

Previously: Laundering The Magdalene ‘Myths’

Broadsheet Trailer Park: Philomena

Identities Withheld

Philomena’s Oath



[Philomena Lee; with her daughter, Jane Libberton, top, and with journalist Martin Sixsmith, above, at the launch the Philomena Project in Dublin today.

98FM reports:

The Government’s been urged to change the laws which prevent adopted people from accessing their birth records.

It comes from the Philomena Project, which has the backing of Philomena Lee, whose 50-year search for her son inspired a book and Oscar-nominated film.

The group says over 60,000 records are being held by the HSE, Catholic Church and private agencies that hold the identities of these people.

Government Urged To Change Adoption Laws (98FM)

Philomena Project to help adoptees find families (Irish Examiner)

Pic: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland and Sharon Gaffney

365884-stephen-frears-judi-dench-steve-cooganphilomena-lee-001(Top, from left Stephen Frears, Judi Dench and Steve Coogan. Below, Martin Sixsmith and Philomena Lee in 2009)

Stephen Frears’s Irish adoption drama Philomena, co-written by, and starring Steve Coogan, has won the best screenplay award at this year’s Venice Film Festival.

One “critic described it as ‘the best reaction to a film since the first screening of The King’s Speech”.

The film adapts the real-life story uncovered by former BBC News journalist Martin Sixsmith, which he recounts in a book, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee.

Dame Judi Dench plays the part of Philomena Lee, who as an unmarried mother in Ireland in the 1950s, was forced to give up her son Anthony to a local convent, who sold him for adoption.

After keeping quiet for nearly 50 years, Mrs Lee asked Sixsmith to uncover the fate of Mrs Lee’s son.

“The real Philomena is an incredibly funny person. She is bright and interesting and has a wonderful sense of humour. That’s why the film has to be so comical in places too, it reflects her and her joy in her life, which she has kept despite everything that has happened to her.”

Mrs Lee is now nearly 80 years old and living in the south of England, but discovered with the help of Sixsmith that Anthony Lee had been adopted by an American couple, and re-named Michael Hess. He grew up to be a rising star in Ronald Regan’s Republican party of the 1980s, but remained desperate to trace his birth mother.

Both he and Philomena made inquiries about each other at the convent where he was born in 1952, Roscrea in County Tipperary, but its nuns withheld information that would have reunited the pair.

Stephen Frears wants “the new Pope Francis to watch this film. I really want him to see it. He seems like a good bloke, and he’s making changes within the church. I think he’d enjoy it.”

The director adds that he doesn’t think the movie “will change anything within the Catholic church, but I do think that people’s response to the film might have an effect.

“You can feel it, you can tell there is a change in the air. Something is touching the church, and you can see it slowly beginning to respond. The Irish government has publicly acknowledged that these places existed, and that Philomena was not the only one who lost her child to the church’s policy on unmarried mothers. The government has apologised, but it’s a slow process. Perhaps this film will move it another fraction of an inch again.”


Frears tells tragic Philomena story for humour (BBC)

The Catholic church sold my child (Martin Sixsmith, Guardian, September  19, 2009)

Previously: Broadsheet Trailer Park: Philomena