New service helps Irish diaspora find family connections

Erin’s Call helps to reunite Irish families at the time when they are needed the most

Padraic Grennan against a backdrop of Dublin City
Padraic Grennan Erin's Call chief Padraic Grennan has set up this new initiative to help reconnect Irish relatives. PICTURE: Erin's Call (WILDEPHOTOGRAPHY)

Irish people living abroad can be connected with long lost relations thanks to a new service called Erin’s Call.

The Dublin-based project is the work of Erin International and CEO Padraic Grennan said emigration in the 1970s and eighties had led to families losing touch.

“We quietly helped on cases in the past, we’ve helped people out... adoption cases, things like that,” Mr Grennan said.

“I realised over time that there’s a huge demand for this type of thing, when the diaspora leave Ireland in the 70s or 80s, a lot changes, people move away and they lose contact or they have a new life but as they get older in years, the longing for home becomes more and more. That’s when they tend to say ‘Maybe I’ll reconnect here’.”

The free service was inspired by the case of John Joseph Gill, an Irishman whose death in England in 2022 prompted a search for his next of kin.

The 86-year-old had been living in various nursing homes and had lost touch with his family but an appeal by Birmingham City Council prompted Erin’s Call to get involved and led to the discovery of next of kin.

“Nobody was coming forward despite the continuing appeal and I could see it on social media so that’s when we got involved, we looked at it and saw that some of the information was incorrect,” Mr Grennan said.

The Erin’s Call team sourced the correct information and were able to find Mr Gill’s relations.

Mr Grennan said the service offers support for people in extreme circumstances and it can be “life changing”.

“This is life-changing stuff for people, a lot of these people are elderly, they might have been informally adopted out, they might have numerous half-siblings they never met, they kind of look back on their lives and think ‘Where do I come from?’, that type of mindset.

“It really is very very rewarding from our perspective, you really are enriching people’s lives, you’re literally changing people’s lives when you do this.”

However, not all cases have a happy ending. On occasion people do not welcome the discovery of new family members and prefer not to be put in contact with them and Erin’s Call respects their request.

Mr Grennan said some of the people helped over the years had spent time in industrial schools.

“I’ve got six kids myself, I couldn’t imagine them being raised in that environment, without their parents,” he added.

“It’s very easy to distance yourself from the past, those who are in their late 70s, early 80s they lived through that, and when you speak to those people, they were young once upon a time and I suppose it makes you thankful for your own upbringing.”