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Irish Times, Sat, May 12, 2012
In conversation with FRANCES O'ROURKE
EVANNE NÍ CHUILINN is an RTÉ sports broadcaster, presenter and
columnist for Irish-language newspaper Foinse. She has been nominated
Columnist of the Year in the Oireachtas Media Awards. Winners will be
announced next Friday. Evanne, who is from Kilkenny, lives in Drimnagh
with her partner Brian Fitzsimons and six-week-old son Séimí
‘I WAS BORN on Hallowe’en night, 1981, and Mam and Dad got me in
early 1982. There was never a time I didn’t know I was adopted. They
had this mantra: ‘You’re our special adopted daughter.’ They were
open to my curiosity, nurtured my wish to know my birth mother, Mary.
They wrote letters to the adoption agency updating my progress. And Mary
had always sent gifts on my birthday, signing them ‘from Mary’ –
it was very respectful of my mam, which I appreciated. She had named me
Eva and my parents honoured that and added Anne to my name, after
“In my teenage years, I got very curious but waited till I was halfway
through my first year in college to contact the agency. It was difficult
and emotional for my parents when I started looking for my birth mother,
but they were always supportive and totally selfless. I got counselling
and we wrote letters back and forth for a while. Six or seven months
later, in September 2001, we had our first meeting. I was 19, Mary was
“We met in the Minella Hotel in Clonmel. The social worker met me at
the door and we went inside, into a private room where Mary was sitting.
It was very surreal but completely natural. And although I never wear
pink, that day I was wearing pink and white, and so was she.
“She’s from a village in Tipperary, only an hour away from where I
grew up outside Kilkenny city. We talked so much I missed the last bus
“Mary is married with three children. Her husband Mick knew about me
but the children didn’t; I met them all a few months later. When
Mary’s father, a lovely man, died a year later, Mam and Dad came to
the funeral. That meant so much to me: it was very difficult, especially
for Mam, one of the bravest, most courageous women I know. I’ve been
lucky in that both Mam and Mary are so understanding.
“Mary’s very caring and selfless, the ultimate mother figure. Séimí,
who was born on March 30th, has three grannies – Mam, Mary, my partner
Brian’s mother Elizabeth and a great granny, Maureen, Mary’s mother.
“I’ve a younger brother, Cormac, and a sister, Áine. Ours was not a
huge sporting house, although Mary’s is. Playing sport was always my
own interest. I swam, played tennis, did modern dance; now I play
camogie and basketball.
“Everything feels like it’s come full circle now that I have my own
baby. Séimí is the first grandchild in Tipperary and Kilkenny, and Mam
and Mary have both become grannies at the same time. Mary and I are
friends, but very special friends, she’s somebody else who has my
back. But Mam is my mam, it wouldn’t work if there wasn’t mutual
understanding all around.”
MARY MEANEY is Evanne Ní Chuilinn’s birth mother and lives in
Ballyporeen, Co Tipperary, with her husband, Mick, and their three
children. After rearing them, and minding her sister’s children, she
worked in a gift shop, The Gift Closet in Fermoy, Co Cork, which she now
‘I WAS WORKING for a veterinary surgeon and was about 19 when I became
pregnant, 20 when I gave Evanne up for adoption. Originally, I wasn’t
going to but things didn’t work out as I thought they would. I was in
a haze or a cloud; when she was adopted it clicked with me, what have I
done? But at the time I really thought I was doing what was best for
her. And I didn’t want to bring shame on my parents – things were
different in those times, in 1981. They knew about it but it was my
decision. I had a fantastic social worker and from day one I kept in
contact, right through the years. It’s what stood to us in the end.
“Evanne’s mam and dad, Cathal and Catherine, who are tremendous
parents, wrote to me themselves every January to let me know how she
was. So I always had information. The thing is, I’d never consider
myself Evanne’s mother because she has her mother and that’s
Catherine. I feel Evanne and I are best friends, really.
“We were in contact with one another through letters from March 2001
to when I met her in September: I was so emotional that day, I shook all
over. I met the social worker first and then Evanne came in. I thought
she was stunning: we chatted for a while, went down for a meal, and
later, realised the last bus had gone, so my sister dropped her home.
“My husband had always known, even before we got married; he’s the
first one I’d share those letters with. He’s mad about her and
treats her like his own. I suppose I was worried about telling my
children, Annette, Gráinne and MJ. They were about 13, 14 and 16 at the
time. I saw a counsellor to prepare myself and promised Evanne I’d
tell them before Christmas.
“The girls just cried and said, ‘Oh Mam, you must have been so
upset.’ We arranged for Evanne to meet them in December. I had to ask
her to come a few hours early because my son had a county final on that
day. So they met her and we all headed off together to see the football
game. They’ve gelled: I’m so lucky, but Evanne is so good, she’s
made the effort to come down if there are any family events on.
“The Friday Séimí, my first grandchild, was born I was on a high,
just wanted everything to be okay. We went up on the Sunday to see the
two of them.
“I never knew where Evanne was, so it was a huge surprise when I
realised she had lived just an hour away. I went through stages in my
life wishing I had her, but she’s turned out to be this most amazing
person and that’s down to her mam and dad – she couldn’t have had
“I’m just so happy she’s back in my life, I really am. I would do
anything for her.”
© 2012 The Irish Times
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|“In all of us there
is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage, to know who we are
and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there
is a hollow yearning . . . and the most disquieting
Alex Haley, Author of Roots