| 11.9°C Belfast

Editor's Viewpoint

Tragedy and great joy in touching tale of two 'foundlings'

Editor's Viewpoint


Reunited brother and sister David McBride and Helen Ward

Reunited brother and sister David McBride and Helen Ward

Reunited brother and sister David McBride and Helen Ward

Incredible, astonishing, astounding, miraculous, unbelievable - one could empty a thesaurus of such synonyms to describe the life stories of David McBride and Helen Ward and still not capture their unique nature.

And yet their stories will resonate with many conversant with life in Ireland in earlier times, when social mores were much different and numerous lives were lived out amid secrets and lies.

For David and Helen, their lives were like the plot of some far-fetched novel with more twists and turns than even the best thriller writers could come up with.

Both were 'foundlings', a quaint old term to describe children abandoned by their parents and brought up by others. David was found in a phone box in Dunmurry in 1962 and Helen discovered in identical circumstances in Dundalk six years later.

Both were adopted and David's new parents later told him all they knew about him. Helen's adoptive family were less forthcoming, keen not to cause any bother.

What followed were desperate, parallel but unknown-to-each-other searches by the two to find out about their parents. It was just by sheer chance that the DNA of both was submitted to an online database and their relationship as brother and sister was discovered.

Neither had ever had an inkling that the other existed.

Now they had met, discovered that each had families of their own and now know who their parents were.

Their births were the result of an affair between a married and older shop manager in Dublin and a young Catholic girl.

In its way it was almost an archetypical story of its time - the mid-20th century in Ireland, where having a child out of wedlock was a social disgrace if discovered. As ever, it would be the woman who would be classified as having fallen; there were no Magdalene laundries for errant men, single or married.

Being pregnant twice, what was the girl to do?

The fact that in both occasions she (it is presumed, as both parties are dead) left the babies in identical bags and in identical circumstances, was that a desperate hint so that someone in authority might realise a connection, even at six years' remove?

Who knows what went through that mother's mind, and it is wonderful that both David and Helen hold no grudge against her for her actions. What is known is that their mother never went on to have any other children. Did the affair ruin her life, leaving her unable to begin another relationship or ever discover what happened to the children she had abandoned?

What part did her lover play in her later life? Was he just relieved that the adoption of the children freed him of any responsibility for them or acceptance of their existence?

This is both a tragic story and one of great joy at how the siblings have found each other and are beginning a new chapter in their incredible lives.

David and Helen's stories will be broadcast on national television next Monday and Tuesday and should make compelling viewing.

Both had spent considerable periods of their lives seeking information about their parents but never thinking of any sibling. The searches came up against many obstacles, and it was only with the development of science allowing the interpretation of DNA which solved their riddle.

At last the truth is out, and two people can now put their lives in perspective. They have closure in very personal crusades, and most people will wish them well for the future.

Belfast Telegraph