Northern Ireland news

Donegal man born in Newry mother and baby home in desperate search for birth family

Mark McCollum pictured outside the former Marianvale mother and baby home in Newry.

A Donegal man who believes he may have been subject to a cross-border adoption from a mother and baby home in Co Down has launched a desperate appeal to find his birth family.

Mark McCollum was adopted in 1966 after his mother, a 16-year-old from west Belfast, fell pregnant following a taboo relationship with a British soldier.

An only child, Mark says he knew from an early age that was adopted but despite having a wonderful childhood with adoring adoptive parents, always felt something was missing.

His mother, who he believes was called Kathleen, was sent to the Marianvale mother and baby home operated by the Good Shepherd Sisters in Newry and gave birth on October 27 1966.

Her son - originally called Paul - was christened in the parish of Lower Killeavy, Bessbrook and adopted shortly afterwards.

The 51-year-old - who is now a father to two teenage children - has no birth certificate, only an adoption and baptismal certificate that provide limited details.

Mark McCollum, who was named Paul at birth, as a baby.

He thinks members of his Belfast family may have made efforts to find him in the past but because of data privacy laws and the complications of the adoption being conducted over two jurisdictions he has only snippets of information.

"I've tried over the years to trace my birth family, but the information I have is limited. I've picked up odd pieces of information but don't have a complete picture," he said.

"The nuns appear to have concealed a lot of what went on for whatever reason. I've no birth certificate or original record of my birth."

The Marianvale mother and baby home operated in Co Down between 1955 and 1984.

A recent investigation by the BBC uncovered details of at least 25 babies who were adopted out of Northern Ireland, Most, like Mark, went to families in the Republic with at least two being sent to the USA.

Mark McCollum was adopted to a loving Donegal family as a child

Campaigners have questioned the legality of moving babies across state borders, although the Good Shepherd Sisters has insisted adoptions were "conducted strictly in accordance with the legislation".

"I think my birth mother moved away to England shortly after being released from the home," Mark said.

"I hope she made a new life, I hope she found happiness. I want her to know I hold no ill will against her, to tell her I had a wonderful life and if she does feel guilty then she shouldn't, she has nothing to feel guilty for.

"I've a daughter who is now 16. It pains me to think that someone her age would have to go through an experience like that.

"I've an inherited heart complaint but was never able to give doctors any medical history - that's the reality of being adopted.

"She would still be a young woman, I hope she's still alive but if any family are still around I'd love to speak to them.

"There's just something missing, a gap in my life that I'd like to fill."

Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw, who has been supporting Birth Mothers and their Children for Justice NI, who are campaigning to secure a public inquiry into mother and baby homes, said anyone with information that can help Mark in his search can contact her office.

"Mark has been waiting almost 52 years to find his mum. If anyone can help please contact paula.bradshaw@mla.niassembly.gov.uk and I will pass it on," she said.

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Academics from Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University are leading a new research project examining the history of mother and baby homes and Magdalene laundries in Northern Ireland.

Professor Sean O’Connell, from the School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics at Queen’s, and Dr Leanne McCormick from the School of Arts and Humanities at Ulster University, are involved in the 12-month project.

Dr McCormick said: “We are encouraging women who experienced life as a resident of a mother and baby home and/or a Magdalene laundry to come forward and share their stories and participate in this important study.

"We also welcome input from those professions such as social workers and medical practitioners who may have knowledge and experience of these institutions that may be valuable to this study."

To contact the research team email MBHML@qub.ac.uk, call 028 9097 3153 or write to Prof Sean O’Connell, School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics, Queen's University Belfast, 25 University Square, Belfast, BT7 1NN.

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