Radio review: Heartbreaking journey to honour last request

Nuala McCann

Nuala McCann

Nuala McCann is an Irish News columnist and writes a weekly radio review.

Nuala McCann
Nuala McCann

The Last Request Radio 4

BBC Reporter Laura McDaid held her close friend Martin Barry’s hand as he died 17 years ago.

They had travelled to Dignitas in Switzerland where he chose to end his life because he was suffering from a severe and unrelenting illness.

In those last hours, he asked her to find his birth mother. She promised she would do her best to fulfil this last request.

This is the harrowing but beautiful story of honouring that friendship and of working tirelessly to do as she was asked.

She and producer and friend Kerry Jamison went about the search. It lasted well over a year.

It was painstaking. They met walls along the way, they chased hopes that evaporated.

Their journey took them to the Mother and Baby Home in Bessborough, Cork, where Martin was born.

Along the way they met other women who had given birth in an Ireland that shamed them deeply and removed their babies.

A woman who had been in one such home talked about seeing a 12-year-old little girl – a child with a huge baby bump, She had been raped by her father. Once seen, such sorrow can never be unseen.

The search raised questions about whether children born in mother and baby homes had been used for medical experiments.

When Laura did receive Martin’s file, it was heavily redacted … 70 pages of it.. yet so little information.

She talked to another woman who tried to trace her child only to find out that another little boy had also been recorded under her name – she would have been four months pregnant at that time. There was a special code on the page. Was it an error or a way to hide the real background and identity of that little boy?

This was a journey of ups and downs, highs and lows. There were no easy answers, no fairytale endings.

It seemed like Martin’s birth mother was an older woman who did not want to be found.

But Laura more than honoured her heartbreaking promise made 17 years earlier.

Yes, we’ve heard so many of these stories but they do not lose the power in the telling.