20 July 2023
Born to unmarried Irish parents in 1961 in London, author Michael Hawkes would become one of the tens of thousands of Irish babies to grow up denied the knowledge of and care of their birth families. Helen Tovey speaks to Michael, and his wife Susan, about their genealogical investigations to piece together his past and trace his birth family.
The system that underpinned the situation - of Michael being brought up without his mother's care - was one that seamlessly combined the Roman Catholic Church’s desire to punish sinners and cleanse society of babies born out of wedlock, and the State’s desire for economy – and, there is no shying away from it, a deeply judgmental society that left vulnerable new mothers feeling so desperate that they had no other choice other than to ‘give up’ their babies. Thus the babies were institutionalised, or adopted, often overseas, and often with scant (or no) legal basis.
In Isle of Hope, the book takes us through Michael's babyhood, with first-hand accounts remarkably unearthed from letters and memories from family members subsequently traced, his childhood, the abuse at the hands of his adopted uncle, and finally, the event that would turn his life in a different - and positive - direction - that of meeting his future wife, Susan, at university.
It was Susan's painstaking genealogical research, with help from others, too, who, despite the stonewalling and obfuscation of the system, managed to track down the papers that would provide Michael with details of his birth parents, and enable him to reach out and find his wider family – even though the bureaucratic delays had prevented him tracing his parents before their passing.
Written with impressive calm, Michael’s careful testimony is stressful, even traumatic to read. It is to be very much recommended as a read, however, as this chilling chapter of history isn’t from eons ago, but is recent past with very real impacts on many people’s lives and families still today.
Isle of Hope is available from Amazon.