Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland man sent to Australia as child pleads for information about mum he never knew

By Claire McNeilly

A Northern Ireland man who was sent to Australia to live as a 12 year-old boy is asking readers to help him find out what became of his mother.

Patrick Dolan was deported as part of the child migrant scheme - later described as "Britain's shameful secret" - and only returned home for the first time in 2014 for an emotional reunion with his long-lost cousin.

Now the 72-year-old retired carpenter has issued a plea for information about his mum, Mary Angela Dolan, who seemingly disappeared without trace in 1948 after placing him in an orphanage.

Mr Dolan has found a photograph featuring a woman he believes may be Angela, whom he thinks worked on the Duke of Argyll, one of the passenger ferries that sailed between Belfast and Heysham during the 1960s.

Speaking to this newspaper during a visit to see family in Belfast, Mr Dolan said he hoped a public appeal would help him finally learn the truth about his mother, who would be 99 if she is still alive.

"It's a funny feeling not having a situation where you feel you belong," he said.

"I've been in Perth since 1966 and I don't feel Australian, but when I first came back to Northern Ireland I didn't feel Northern Irish either.

"I realise where I come from now, but all these years I've felt lost. Most of the migrant boys and girls felt the same way.

"But if it hadn't been for the Child Migrants Trust, none of us would have found out anything."

The father-of-three was placed in Nazareth Lodge orphanage when he was three years of age by his mother, whom he believes would have been 28 or 29 at that time and who was originally from Belleek in Co Fermanagh.

Aged 12, he was sent to an institution run by the Christian Brothers in Boys Town, 60 miles from Perth, in Western Australia, where life for him and the other 100-plus boys housed there was "very tough".

The boys were told to build a Christian Brothers facility on an abandonned farm, and children as young as 10 were ordered to work, constructing schools, dormitories and kitchens.

Thrashings were routine and sexual abuse was rife.

"It was extremely hard, but we didn't know any different," Mr Dolan said.

"They made us work very hard and there was verbal abuse and sexual abuse to contend with as well."

At 16, Mr Dolan, who has three daughters - Leonie (46), Amanda (42) and Chelsea (36) - with 66 year-old wife Jan, who used to work in childcare, and seven grandchildren, left the institution and started work in carpentry.

But throughout his life he has never stopped looking for his mother.

He found his cousin Noel - who died in 2014 - via the internet and after DNA analysis confirmed their relationship, Mr Dolan came to Belfast to meet him eight months before he passed away.

"Despite extensive searches and immense assistance from the Child Migrants Trust, there appears to be no trace of Angela in any of the official records in the UK, Ireland or the USA," he said.

"There have been plenty of leads over the years, but they've all hit a brick wall. It has been very disappointing.

"It was pure chance that Noel and I discovered we were related, but at least we had the opportunity to meet before he lost his life to cancer in September 2014."

Noel's daughter and Mr Dolan's second cousin, Zoe McCaw, a 31 year-old English tutor, said they hoped the photograph of a stewardess named Angela who worked on the Duke of Argyll passenger ferry would help them find information about her granny's sister.

"It would be great if anyone could help us identify the lady in the photograph," added Zoe.

"She bears a striking resemblance to my own grandmother, Violet (McCann), who would've been Angela's sister."

Both Mr Dolan - who, sadly, knows absolutely nothing about his father either - and Zoe believe that it is unlikely that Angela is still alive "as she would be 99 now".

But they are urging anyone with "the smallest piece of information" to come forward.

"I'd be overwhelmed to find out about my mum and whether or not I have brothers or sisters," said Mr Dolan.

"I'm hoping that this photograph, or my story, will jog someone's memory.

"I would love them to come forward so that I can learn something about my family after all these years."

If you have any information please email findangeladolan@gmail.com

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