Ninety years ago, in Dublin, Ireland, a tiny baby made his home in St. Kevin’s orphanage.
The baby’s name was John Clarke. It was 1926, and at that time in Ireland, having a baby out of wedlock was a serious social crime. Clarke’s mother had to send him to the orphanage to avoid criticism and censure from the church. She mourned the loss of her eldest son, but moved to England to start a new life shortly after sending him to the orphanage.
In the years that followed, Clarke led a good life. He grew up in a foster home, but his family was kind and loving. As an adult, Clarke entered the Irish army. Then he got a good job at the Clondalkin Paper Mills. He worked there until his retirement.
He was also an avid sportsman. Clarke played Gaelic football and hurling, two Irish traditional sports, in a local organization called the GAA. When he got too old to compete, Clarke acted as a referee. He oversaw games at the GAA for 20 years.
Clarke even dabbled in politics. He joined the center-right party Fianna Fail and upheld their tenants throughout his life. Clarke married a woman named Betty in 1958. They had nine kids together.
It sounds like a perfectly full life. But somewhere in the back of his mind, Clarke always wondered if he had siblings out there somewhere. Was he part of a family that he had never known? After his retirement, Clarke resolved to find out.
Clarke enlisted the aid of Betty’s brother Tom.
Together, Tom and Clarke poured through the genealogy databases, but with little success.
“One time we thought we had found a family,” Tom told the Independent. “But we had got it wrong and we were distraught.”
McCauley traced Clarke’s mother’s history. Mary had moved to Birmingham, England after dropping Clarke off at the orphanage. There, she married a man named Arthur Lockley. Together, Mary and Arthur had six of their own kids, none of whom had any idea that they shared a half-brother in Ireland.
McCauley put Clarke in touch with the surviving Lockleys. The long-lost siblings started exchanging emails. There was no question that they were related. Clarke looked just like his half-brother Brian.
Just as they were planning their first face-to-face reunion, Clarke’s age played a dirty trick on him. He had a stroke. He was too ill to travel. So his siblings decided to come to him.
Two of Clarke’s half-sisters, Valerie Hipkiss and Bonnie Stanford, got on a plane and landed in Dublin.
“It was very emotional,” Tom, who also met the sisters, said. “They brought photos of their mother Mary and exchanged stories and got to catch up. It was unbelievable and meant a lot to John.
In pictures of the meeting, Clarke grins from ear to ear as his half-sisters fawn over him. For a man who never knew he had siblings, this was an incredibly meaningful moment. He had to wait 90 years to meet his family, but when he did, the love flowed out of him like water.
And that first meeting bore even more genealogical fruit. With the help of his half-siblings, Clarke was able to find even more long-lost family members. He had a set of cousins who lived right there in Dublin. At long last, Clarke had found his family.
Hipkiss and Stanford are just as happy as Clarke. They had no idea that their mother had another child. Finding out was a shock, but it proved to be a very happy one. The sisters felt a instant kinship with Clarke, who shared a lot of their values, as if by genetic predisposition.
They spent a lifetime ignorant of each other’s existence. But there’s no time limit on blood relations. Today, the half-siblings love each other as much as any more conventional family.
“It has been a very long but incredible journey,” Tom said. “It is fantastic that John has been able to reconnect with his sisters and find out so much about his family.”