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First encounters

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 Dad’s mother.

“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 40.

“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 from Clonmel.

“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 co-owns 

‘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 better.

“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 loneliness." 

Alex Haley, Author of Roots 





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