Belfast Telegraph

Armagh pensioner tracks down daughter in ITV's Long Lost Family

From left: Catherine Crabb, Margaret Sweeney
and Therese Morrison
From left: Catherine Crabb, Margaret Sweeney and Therese Morrison
Presenters Davina McCall with Nicky Campbell
Margaret as a young woman

By Christopher Leebody

A Northern Ireland woman has become the oldest ever participant in the hit ITV series Long Lost Family.

Margaret Sweeney (83), who is from Armagh but now lives in Perth, Scotland, is featured in Monday night's episode, in which hosts Davina McCall and Nicky Campbell attempt to track down the daughter she was separated from over 60 years ago.

The journey to find Margaret's long-lost daughter Catherine takes the presenters as far as Brisbane in Australia.

Margaret's story is one familiar to many single women of the time who grew up under the influence of a conservative Catholic background, with many forced to give up children following advice from the church.

The great-great-grandmother moved to London as a teenager to escape her strict Catholic upbringing, becoming pregnant shortly after.

The father of the child abandoned Margaret and, unable to return home, she was forced to seek refuge in a convent.

In the show she describes her terrible experience under the care of nuns, in which she was subjected to open shame for her pregnancy.

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Speaking on Monday's show Margaret explains: "I thought they were going to be nice but they were far from nice. The nuns, they treated you like nothing, saying you were a bad girl. I thought I was worthless".

Margaret describes how putting her baby girl, originally called Imelda, up for adoption, "broke my heart", but adds she felt she had no choice at the time.

With the help of one of her five children, Therese, Margaret had always been desperate to make contact with the daughter she gave up before it is too late.

Early in the show she says: "I'm praying that I find her before I die. I really am."

Using the adoption records which were stored with the agency she was placed with, the Long Lost Family team are able to discover that Margaret's daughter, now called Catherine, had moved to Brisbane with her adopted family when she was six years old.

Similar to her birth mother's own upbringing, Catherine was also raised by a strict Catholic family.

She was aware she had been adopted but told the show that she had never investigated it further.

She adds: "I thought, well, maybe she hadn't told anybody about me and just kept me a secret."

As it comes to light that Catherine has a large adopted family in Scotland, the reality of the physical distances between mother and daughter are apparent.

Catherine is the sole full-time carer for her 96-year-old adoptive mother in Australia and is unable to make the journey to the UK to reunite with Margaret.

Despite the challenges of the potential journey, Margaret is determined to be reunited with the daughter she gave up six decades ago.

She explains: "I'd fly anywhere, I'd fly to heaven to see her."

While talking with host Davina, Margaret describes her joy, saying she "never had as good a news in my life as this, it feels great".

True to her word, Margaret and her daughter Therese decide to make the journey to Brisbane to reunite with Catherine.

After so many years apart, the emotion between the pair has never left. Sharing a first hug, Catherine declares: "Today has been the best day of my life, and I'm so happy I've met my mum."

Margaret, reflecting on her many years of praying to see her daughter again, says: "Never give up - I said one day I will find her, and I did".

  •  Long Lost Family is on Monday, June 17 on ITV at 9pm.

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