IT has taken a lifetime, but now 65-year-old Laurence Madigan can, at long last, begin the search for his birth family.
Laurence, who is now living in Charleville, has lived his life believing he was Laurence Marshall, born in Nenagh, Co Tipperary, the son of a “Travelling man”.
But now, in a strange sequence of events, he has discovered his real identity is Laurence Madigan, that he was born in Dublin and on a very different date. “It is beyond belief,” he told the Limerick Leader this week.
“It is very confusing, very very confusing when you are known for such a long time under one name,” he said. It was, he added, like discovering that your arm was no longer your arm at all.
But he revealed he was more sad than angry at the identity theft which was visited upon him. “It is cruelty beyond belief.” His wife Christina, however,is very angry, he said, because of the question mark it now puts over the legality of their 20-year-old marriage.
Laurence’s childhood memories begin in Glin Industrial School where he was sent at the age of three and a half and where he says he was raped and sexually assaulted by a man working at the Christian Brother run school.
Tom Wall who wrote the memoir, The Boy from Glin School, about his experiences in the school, was a classmate of Laurence and remembers him as Larry Marshall. But he was not surprised at the identity theft. It happened others too, he said.
There were three other Marshall children at the school, Laurence recalled but he did not resemble them in any way. And when he asked them, he was told he was not related to them.
“That always nagged me,” Laurence said.
At age 14, he was sent to Letterfrack, “the hell of all hells” and later again, he said, he was “sold” to a family in Co Galway, working for them without pay for a year and a half. “I was not allowed to sleep in the house, to eat with them,” he recalled. But he escaped, by cycling through the night to Limerick city where he found work, saved a bit and then spent years travelling the world.
As an adult, Laurence spent almost 30 years trying to trace his Marshall family but without any success. That now comes as no surprise, given that he was never a Marshall.
But the long road to his real identity began, strangely enough, with an anonymous phone call about ten years ago. “A person with a very official tone of voice said your identity is completely wrong,” Laurence recalled. The man advised him to seek a new passport in his real name of Madigan.
“I did somehow believe him,” Laurence said and to his great astonishment, he did receive a new passport with his name given as Madigan. However, that passport gave his birthday as September 7, 1949.
Then this September, when he went to claim his pension, he was told the date on his 2001 birth cert was wrong. Instead, a new birth cert was issued to him, with the new birth date of June 18, 1950. He also discovered his birthplace was St Patrick’s Mother and Baby home in Dublin, that no name was entered for his father and that his mother’s first name was different.
What is horrifying him now is that such basic information had been deliberately kept from him for so many years, as part of the system that he was thrown into as a baby. And he believes it was done to prevent him ever tracing his birth parents. “I feel more than betrayed. I feel let down. I feel every basic human right I had was denied me,” he said.
“For 60 years, I didn’t have a clue who I was, who my family was,” he said.
But he is now clinging to the hope that he may yet be able to trace his birth mother and/or other family members.