Celtic Illumination, part 325, The mothers of invention.
I didn’t hang around too long in Shotley with Tony and Mary, I wanted to get back home and find out how far along Jeffrey had managed to push my three new prospective clients, plus, I had an idea for a new project. I was still involved with the cadets and still working occasionally for TPT, who still would not employ me correctly and insisted that I produce acceptable business receipts that they would honour. It was quite a ridiculous situation but what else can you expect when you are working with morons? Jeffery and myself were constantly at odds over the way I worked. Jeffrey insisted that I should not write anything unless I was going to be paid for it, but that wasn’t me. It was the excitement of each project that carried me along.
For example with the O Grady/ Lily Savage project, no publishing contract had been investigated but I had already completed the first novel which we all knew they had read and liked. I had almost completed the second novel in the series and was planning a third. Jeffery was telling me to slow down, even stop, and Brendan Murphy, Savage’s boyfriend and manager, was complaining that we hadn’t even agreed on the first novel while I had almost completed the second novel. It’s not my fault if they can’t keep up. Of course my new career as a ghost writer was not the only form of writing that I was involved in, I was still firing off a barrage of letters to social services, civil servants and local MP’s demanding that people in Northern Ireland, who had been adopted, should have the right to be given information about their birth parents. Anyone else in the UK could, why couldn’t we?
It was quite a shock one day to find out that we had won. I hadn’t really expected it, which I know is daft, but on reflection I was more interested in writing letters and complaining, I had never considered what I would do if we won. I got a letter saying that the law had been changed, that I could now access my birth records. Although as this involved civil servants and social workers they had to make a fudge of the process before they even started. I was told that if I wanted to find out any information about my birth I would have to go to Belfast and have a one and a half hour, mandatory, interview with a social worker to determine if I was mature enough to be given the details of my birth mother. As you can imagine one or two valves in my head exploded. For a start how dare they suggest that a social worker would determine if I was mature enough? And secondly I had always been told that my mother had died giving birth to me, so what was the fecking point in telling me about her. I needed to know who my father was and where he was.
The travel agent was surprised when I booked my standard return flight to Belfast, with hire car, and didn’t tell him that I would be back in a day or two to cancel the ticket. I flew into Belfast harbour airport, collected my car and set off to find the social worker. It was a standard row of houses that had been converted into offices, near Queens University. I was welcomed in and shown to an office that looked as if it had once been a back bed room. I sat myself down and waited. I wasn’t sure what to expect, I honestly expected them to tell me the name of my dead mother and nothing else. But I was sure of one thing and that is that I was going to give the social worker a piece of my mind. The social worker came in and she was a woman, she introduced herself as Maria.
We settled down, I declined the offer of tea or coffee and she began to explain what was about to happen. She then asked me to tell her what I knew of my birth. At that time I was unaware of the snatch squad of battle hardened Carmelite nuns who had spirited me away so I told her what I knew. I said that my mother had died giving birth to me and that my father, a recently qualified professional, had decided to leave me in Ireland where I would receive better schooling and medical care, should I have gone with him. I was considering adding how stupid they were giving me the details of my dead mother when in fact I would need the details of my father, but for some reason I didn’t, for Maria was sitting smiling at me.
“I’m sorry Peter,” she said. “But many people who were adopted in Northern Ireland, around the same time as yourself, were told that either one, or both, of their parents were dead.” I can remember exactly what she said to me but it wasn’t registering with me, she was talking about other people not me. “Your mother and father are both alive and well, they are still married to each other and you have eleven brothers and sisters.” I was incapable of thought, the proverbial spanner had been thrown into the works and my brain had stopped. She began handing me papers; there was my birth certificate, with all the details of my parents and myself. There were reports from social workers and contracts from the convent where I had been born. “When you were born,” she said. “You were called Malachy Peter O Neill.”
She then left me alone with all the paperwork which I read and read again. For over thirty years all I had thought about was my father. I can still remember at boarding school secretly wishing that he would turn up and rescue me from the nightmare that was Violent Hell. Now the only thought in my head was how nice a name Malachy was. After about ten minutes Maria came back in, I think normal people would have shed some tears during this ‘alone time,’ but as you all know, I am far from normal. Maria went on to explain that the moment they received my application to be given this information they had a duty to inform my mother who had been given an assurance, at my birth, that I would never be given these details and would never contact her, or my father.
Maria told me that my mother ran a flower shop in some small village in Northern Ireland, she would not tell me where they lived, but she would come to Belfast three mornings each week to buy flowers. I had visions of Elisa Doolittle skipping through the streets of Belfast. She gave me two photographs of my mother, which were useless; you could not see any features or really see the person in the photograph. She then said that she had spoken to my mother on three occasions and that my mother was considering meeting me. If I was agreeable Maria would continue to communicate with my mother and she would arrange a meeting between the pair of us. I agreed to her suggestion and left. Nothing had really registered with me; I know as I accelerated out and away from Belfast, I was smiling like an eejit, because all I was thinking was isn’t Malachy a lovely name.
I know I was still smiling when I drove in to Warrenpoint. I went straight to Phelim, the head good ol boy himself. As far as I was concerned it was my birthday and I needed to celebrate. It felt good telling Phelim and Peter about my new name, which didn’t make much difference as I had, for all the time that they knew me been called Peter, now despite the fact that I knew my original name was Malachy, and told them so, they still called me Boris. I could see that the only person this information made any sense to was myself. Before our couple of drinks turned in to a full blown session I left and decided to go home and dump the car and my bags and say hello. I passed a flower shop and wondered if my parents were from Warrenpoint. They couldn’t be, could they?
Suddenly the whole thing opened up before me, I wondered if I had ever met them or seen them, and eleven brothers and sisters, plus Carol, that would be an awful lot of birthday cards. I walked in to our house and wondered if I should tell my mother what had happened. Sounds strange that I was considering telling my mother that I had found out who my birth mother had been. But I wondered if she had been lied to as well, so as we sat and had a cup of tea I told her that I had a meeting with social workers in Belfast that morning and that I had been given the details of my birth. She didn’t seem to be affected by the news, I don’t know if I had expected her to feel that I had let her down by going through the process. But I do remember what she said. The woman who had told me all my life that my mother had died giving birth to me, now said, “When we bought you we were given all your birth details, and Carol’s, but we just threw them on the fire.”