overcame extraordinary odds to raise her beloved 'only boy'. Now she
tells of the second son and daughter she gave up for adoption - and why
she kept them secret for 50 years
By Jason O'Toole, Daily
Last updated at 8:46 AM on 25th July 2010
The whole world knows
how hard Philomena Lynott fought to keep and raise her son Philip –
and what a job she made of it.
After all, her struggle
against poverty and racial bigotry in 1950s Ireland was the centrepiece
of her bestselling memoir – and her son, who she always calls Philip,
went on to become one of the biggest rock stars in the world.
That book, My Boy, made
much of her courageous resistance to attempts by over-zealous nuns to
browbeat her into giving up her only child for adoption.
That’s why her
confession today is as courageous as it is shocking. For the first time,
she admits not only to giving birth to two other children – a boy and
a girl – but to surrendering both of them for adoption.
With the 25th
anniversary of her rock star son’s tragic death just months away, it
cannot have been easy for Philomena to tarnish the myth she herself
gilded in her book.
But, she says, she
can no longer keep her secret bottled up. She ‘held back a lot’ in
her book, she says, because she had successfully concealed her other
babies from her own mother – and her ‘stomach was churning’ about
her ever finding out.
‘The shame was
unmerciful. I couldn’t let my mother know I had two more children.
When I had those children, to have children out of wedlock was a
terrible thing. In my day, to have a child out of wedlock you were a
slut. You were classed as soiled goods.
'It was awful,’ she
says as she finally opens up and tells her remarkable story in this
exclusive in-depth interview.
‘My sisters all knew
– but not mammy. At the time of doing the book, I was still heavily
grieving. My mother went to her grave not knowing I had two more
children. I loved my mother and she thought I was lovely. I took care of
my mammy until the last. And that was that. After she died, I didn’t
care who knew.
‘Then my children got
in touch with me and we decided to perpetuate the secret because they
also didn’t want their adopted parents to know that they had gone and
found their mother. They visit me. They’re my best friends. I respect
them. I love them. They love me.’
The decision to give up
the two children she christened Jeannette and James was
‘horrendous’, Philomena says – but she did it so they would have
better prospects than she could give them, struggling to make ends meet
in the ‘slums’.
‘Today, young women
can have babies and they can go to their mammy and say, “Mammy, I’m
pregnant”, and their mothers help them. The State helps them –
they’re given homes and this, that and the other,’ she says.
‘And thank God, the
world has changed for the young women who fall by the wayside. Now, to
have a baby within wedlock is unusual!
‘I got loads of
letters when I wrote my book from women who had had to part with
children. The women of today don’t know how lucky they are. They are
not pressurised; their mothers are not throwing them into convents,
workhouses or anything like that.
'They can walk around
with their babies, no wedding rings on and nobody cares. And that is
interview was arranged because Philomena wanted to voice her aversion to
her son’s old band Thin Lizzy’s plans to ‘cash in’ by performing
in Dublin on the night of his 25th anniversary next January 4.
The contentious concert
will clash with the annual Vibe For Philo concert, which has
commemorated her son’s musical legacy on every anniversary over the
past the 24 years.
unfair to the Vibe For Philo,’ she says.
But as we settled down
to chat in her sitting room –
where she has
temporarily put her own bed so she can be close to her dying dog – she
unexpectedly opens up about her secret family.
‘You don’t know
what I went through,’ she begins – and then the floodgates open, for
eight hours, over a two-day period.
Born in the Liberties
on October 22, 1930, Philomena is still in robust health and – despite
battling skin cancer last year and also suffering a massive heart attack
when she was 70 – she looks remarkably younger than her 80 years.
She was four years old
when her family moved to 85 Leighlin Road in Crumlin, where her ‘only
son’ would also be raised and would first learn to play the guitar
within the walls of the small terraced Corporation house as he began his
path to international fame and fortune.
She recalls: ‘I had a
lovely childhood. When I was 17, my two elder sisters and elder brother
joined the RAF in England. I wrote to join the services in England, too,
but when the replies came back, my daddy would tear them up, saying,
“No daughter of mine is going into the services”.
‘So off I went to go
nursing in England. I went to Leeds first; my two sisters were there.
But then they told my brother to come to take me home to look after
mammy, who was having a baby late in life – she was 51 years of age. I
came back home. I was fuming because I loved being in England and
‘My mother gave birth
to a son named Peter. Peter, my brother, is just two years older
than my son Philip. They grew up together. And Peter played guitar, too,
and he was fantastic.’
Shortly after the
birth, the family ‘let me go back to England’ and destiny soon
intervened when she met Cecil Parris, from Georgetown, in British Guiana
on the northern coast of South America – not Brazil, as has been
widely documented in the countless articles since Philip’s tragic
In 1947, Cecil decided
to emigrate to New York but never reached his destination. Unknown to
him, the ship was bound initially for Britain and he disembarked at
Liverpool, mistakenly thinking it was New York.
He met Philomena in
1948 in a dancehall attached to a Displaced Persons Hostel in
‘I never fell in love
with him. It was a “happening”. You’ve got to remember that I was
17 or 18 and I didn’t smoke or drink but we used to go to these
came all across the dance floor and he asked for a dance and I
couldn’t refuse him. I’ll tell you why: it wasn’t in my heart. He
had walked the whole length of the floor and everybody looked at him.
Remember, they didn’t want black to be mixing with white.
‘It was fate –
something said to me to get up and dance. And when I danced, the floor
got full of people. He was a good dancer. When the dance was over, I
walked back to where all the women stood and they all backed off – I
was a “nigger lover”.
‘Then, when I left
that dancehall that night, as I walked outside, two Polish guys that me
and another girl had been to a dance with started to grab me and he
(Cecil) grabbed them and protected me. And that’s when he said,
“Would you like to go out with me?” And I must have said yes.
‘That was the
beginning. And I had a few dates and the rest is history.
‘But there was no
falling in love with him at the time. I’m being very honest. There was
no falling in love but I must have felt a bit of compassion, that he’d
been kind to me. He was a good man.’
Philomena lost her
virginity to Cecil when they made love on a ‘local golf course’.
Shortly afterwards, Philomena was ‘horrified’ to discover she was
pregnant, but by this stage Cecil had already departed to work in
In fairness, Cecil had
written letters to Philomena at the hostel where she had been staying
– not knowing that she had been ‘ruthlessly expelled’ after they
discovered she was pregnant.
After a ‘naïve,
failed attempt’ to abort the pregnancy by drinking boiled gin ‘with
some pennies in it’ and then taking quinine tablets, Philomena began
to accept her situation and went to work in the foundry at the Austin
Motor Company right through her pregnancy.
‘I used to wear an
old-fashioned corset to keep my stomach in because I couldn’t let
people know – because I wasn’t married. And to have a baby out of
wedlock in those days you were classed as a tramp. You were classed as
the baddest of the bad.
‘I was taken from the
foundry in an ambulance to the hospital and I was 36 hours in labour.
And all the women were screaming, “Oh, George or Henry – never
again!” I just lay there and I suffered in silence.
‘Because nobody knew.
None of my family knew that I was having a baby. I couldn’t tell them,
the shame was unmerciful.’
nine-and-a-half pounds, Philip Parris Lynott was born on August 20,
1949. Soon afterwards, Philomena was forced to move with Philip into the
Selly Oak Home for unmarried mothers.
However, Philomena was
bluntly told that she could only leave the home if she gave her child up
for adoption. She was told that a married couple were ‘willing’ to
adopt Philip and that the nuns were making arrangements for her to
return to Ireland.
‘But I wasn’t going
to let them take my child away from me.’
But Philomena was
terrified that her parents would discover she had Philip and the nuns
played on this fear, warning her that if she didn’t surrender the
baby, her ‘conventionally respectable’ Catholic Irish family would
be informed that she had given birth to an ‘illegitimate black
‘It was awful what
they did to me in that place. They put me out to work in the shed
because I was the lowest of the lowest – because I had a black baby.
Even today, I live with a bad back because it was freezing working in
the shed – it was a stone floor.’
Eventually she was
rescued from this horrific experience when Cecil finally discovered he
had a son and miraculously tracked Philomena down. ‘He said, “I’ll
find you somewhere to live”.’
It was easier said than
done because racial prejudice meant that nobody wanted to take in a
single white mother with a black baby.
But eventually, after
many ‘point-blank refusals’, Cecil found a Mrs Cavendish in the
working-class suburb of Blackheath who was willing to take them in –
but there was one condition: Philomena would have to share a bed with
the landlady’s teenage daughter, Dorothy, while Philip would sleep in
the cot nearby.
‘And she p****ed all
over me in the bed. She had a slight mental problem,’ Philomena sighs
at the recollection. But at least Mrs Cavendish agreed to
babysit Philip while Philomena went off to work.
would return home in the evenings only to discover that his nappy
hadn’t been changed once during the day.
‘I’d only have a
few hours with him, to cuddle him and nurse him and change him and clean
his bum. I said to Philip’s father, “Get me out of here”.’
She adds: ‘I met this
woman who was pregnant and she couldn’t tell her mother. The two of us
ran away and we ended up in Liverpool. We went looking for digs but you
had to go to the slum area.
An African man gave us
a room but didn’t he try to come in and sleep with the two of us? So,
we had to run to the police. You don’t know what I went through.’
Philomena in Liverpool and wanted to get back together.
‘But I wasn’t
interested because by then he’d become a bit of a flirt with the
ladies,’ is all she would say on the subject of their break-up.
But during this period
in Liverpool, Philomena became pregnant again and gave birth to a
daughter she called Jeanette, in March 1951. Last year, Cecil’s wife,
Irene, told the Irish Mail on Sunday that this girl – despite being
born white – was Cecil’s child. True?
‘He thought it was
his, but he wasn’t the father. None of them has the same father,’
she reveals with brutal candour. In fact, Philomena never told the real
father about the unwanted pregnancy.
And when Cecil ‘went
back to London’, she was, once again, on her own shortly after giving
birth to Jeanette.
‘I never saw him
again for a couple of years. I always told Philip that his father was a
good man who wanted to marry me, which he did in the early days. And I
didn’t want to marry him.’
Philomena says she couldn’t continue struggling to raise her children
on her own because she was close to ‘total physical exhaustion’ from
the ‘obvious problems of ‘racism, loneliness and poverty’.
In her memoir, she
tells how she collapsed on the street when a bus conductor cruelly rang
the bell – signaling the driver to pull off – as she was attempting
to clamber on with her buggy. It was the last straw.
She decided to ask her
parents to take in Philip. But what she didn’t reveal until today is
that she also made the heartrending decision to give her daughter up for
‘That was heavy.
Because when I had the little girl, I was in digs, in slums, which was
horrible. There was a welfare nun who used to visit and she said to me,
“You’re going home to Ireland at Christmas. Would you like me to
look after Jeannette for you?” I said yes.
‘When I came back,
she brought Jeannette back to me and she was dressed up and she was full
‘She said, “Guess
where I took her? I took her to a schoolteacher and his wife”. They
were trying to adopt a little girl.
The nun said,
“Philomena, why don’t you let your little girl have a break? Because
you’re going to have to spend the rest of your life living in the
slums. This child will have a wonderful life”. That was how I let
Consequently, she’s a
schoolteacher. She is a lady. She works with the church. She makes her
own honey. She makes her own wine. She is a beautiful person. She
sends me the lovely things that she makes and everything. We talk on the
Within 15 months of
giving birth to Jeanette, Philomena had a third child from a
relationship with a black GI called Jimmy Angel, an alias she gave when
writing about their affair in her memoir – which omitted, however, any
mention of falling pregnant with her second son, James, who was born in
Manchester in June 1952.
‘When he went back to
America he was going to send for me but, when he went back, his grandma
and mother didn’t want him marrying a white woman. They lived down
South, don’t forget. They lived in South Carolina where the Ku Klux
Klan was very active. Big time. Think about it.
‘The difference over
here, in this side of the world, was that no white man wanted his
daughter marrying a black man. Today, nobody cares; there’s so many
mixed children now, it doesn’t matter.
‘It seems to me that
before he joined the army, he was courting another girl, so the
grandmother rang me and told me to “get knotted” and “don’t
bother writing any more”.
He must have ended up
marrying this girl and he became a doctor. When you have an affair, you
don’t keep in touch. You have happy memories. But your life goes on.
So why did she give up
James? She says: ‘The boy got tuberculosis and they took him to a
sanatorium in Wales. He was a lovely, lovely baby. And the next thing
was, this same nun said, “I’ve found this lovely couple…”.’
Did Philip know he had
a half-brother and half-sister?
‘He didn’t know he
had a brother. I told him he had a sister because she had got in touch
with me. And the boy hadn’t at the time.’
After she wrote her
memoir, Philomena’s third child, James, finally made contact with
her when he approached the book’s publisher’s to ask them for her
‘When he found out
who he was, he got in touch with me. I arranged to meet him in the hotel
up the road. I sat there and he came through the door and I looked at
him and he looked at me and we broke down (crying).
‘He’d read that
Philip used to buy me 48 roses. When I got in his car, he had a bucket
in the back with roses and he had a book about Gregory Peck because he
knew I loved Gregory Peck.’
In 2003, it emerged
that Philip had a lovechild, Dara Lambe, who had been given up for
adoption by his mother. It’s another subject that Philomena has not
spoken publicly about.
‘I can answer you
straightforward: yes, he is Philip’s son. Oh, yeah, without a
doubt.’ He has the same thumbs – like Philip used to slam the bass
guitar – and eyes, she says.
As she finishes telling
me about her secret family, Philomena looks like someone who has been
relieved of a 16-tonne weight. Then she adds firmly that this will be
the only time she speaks in a newspaper about the two children she gave
up for adoption.
‘I’ve said it now. I have no more to say.’
didn’t I marry Denis? I would never say ‘I obey’!
Even though Philomena
managed to find work and save up her money to eventually fulfil her
dream of running a successful hotel in England, she reveals that it was
difficult for her to maintain a long-term relationship.
‘When I’d meet
boyfriends and maybe I’d have a second date I’d say to myself, “I
like him. I might tell him I have a baby and I’m not married”. I’d
say to them, “I think I’d better tell you, since you’ve asked me
out a second time, I have a baby; I’m not married”. They’d say,
“Oh, it doesn’t matter”. “Well, but I’d better tell you that
my baby is black”.
‘After that, it was
trying to get me to bed because I was “a tramp”. And that went on
for a long time. Every time I met a man.
‘So, all I did was
keep working and working. I didn’t bother with men. Then one night, I
went to a do at a nightclub and Denis was there.’
Phil was 14 years old
when Philomena met Denis Keeley, the man she shared her life with for 50
years before his death in January this year. She says Phil and Denis
‘were great buddies’.
In an eerie
coincidence, Denis was cremated on January 4 – the same date Phil
died. Sadly, it meant that as Philomena was deep in mourning she was
unable to attend the Vibe For Philo event for the first time in over 20
‘It was heavy going.
It was horrendous. He died on the Thursday night and the Vibe was on the
Monday. And I love going to the Vibe because I love the music, I love
seeing everybody, and I stand up there singing – I’m an old rocker.
I was heartbroken.’
She says the past 12
months have been mentally and physically exhausting for both herself and
Graham Cohen – a friend she describes as being like family – who
helped her nurse Denis through his battle with cancer.
‘I knew I was losing
Denis from last summer. He had deteriorated. We nursed him here; we
wouldn’t let him go to the hospital.’
‘He was 78 but he got
the lung cancer. He reckoned it was the cigarettes. He used to preach to
me, “Phyllis, stop that smoking, you’ll end up like me”.
‘It was awful. We had
him here for the last year of his life, taking care of him, me and
Graham, waiting on him. I was with him for 50 years. And we never
you regret not getting married?
at all. What for? To say, “I do”?! No, I would never say “I
them up broke my heart but I had to do it
Giving up her third
child, James, for adoption and, at practically the same time, sending
four-year-old Phil back to Crumlin to live with her parents were the
hardest decisions of Philomena’s life.
Her mother, after all,
was so mortified that she told the neighbours – and even her own
husband – that Philip, her grandson, ‘belonged to a black lady’
who tragically died.
But she says, not only
did her heart-breaking choice give both boys a better life, it also
freed Philomena to get her own life together.
‘I lived in slums and
Philip was going home to Crumlin, which was beautiful in its day,’ she
says. ‘Going home to Mammy and my brothers to be raised like I was in
that little house – warm, getting a dinner, pots of stew down him and
everything, and going to school, it was…’
Her voice trails off.
‘Yeah,’ she says,
adding: ‘And that allowed me to go and take the three jobs and send
money to Mammy for keeping him and then I’d send him his pocket money.
I kept him very trendy; he was the first kid in Dublin to have a Dalek
machine (a Dr Who toy).
‘And from that, I
came out of the gutter. I got myself three jobs – I was working a full
week, I was a barmaid at night, and I was doing markets at the weekend.
‘And I saved enough
money to put a deposit on the hotel. And I moved up in the world,
instead of God knows what would have happened to the three of them. They
probably would have been brought up in a slum area; God knows what
they’d be. There they are and they love me.’
In 1976, Phil disclosed
in an interview that he would love to meet his father, Cecil.
‘His father got in
touch with the office and the office got in touch with me. I said to
Philip, “Do you want me to come with you when you’re going to meet
your father?” “Ah, no,” he said. I think he took Big Charlie, his
But, according to
Philomena, father and son only met on one occasion – and not ‘five
or six’ times, as Cecil’s wife Irene suggested in an interview with
the MoS last year. She says Philip told her he didn’t warm to his
father. ‘Philip was never interested afterwards. I don’t think he
ever wanted to meet him again.’
Cecil Parris is, it is
understood, living out his final days in a home for the elderly. Does
Philomena have any desire to see him before he passes away?
‘No. I have not.’
(c) Daily Mail
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