Reared by his grandparents, Mary and Mickey Moore in Glack, Brendan Moore and his sisters, Frances and Eileen, were used to seeing a woman visit each month.
They thought she was an aunt or some other relative, but there was never much contact with her.
It was only when Brendan was a young lad, still at school in Tartnakelly, that he found out the unmarried woman was his mother, Bridget Moore.
“We never asked. That’s how it was back then. I think I found out who she was when I was 12. I suppose I was indifferent about it. As far as I was concerned my grandparents were my parents,” he said.
After leaving school in 1959, the almost 16-year-old Brendan - who at that time was never told who his father was - left for a career in the army, as a lot of others did at the time.
He kept contact with his grandmother, his sisters and an uncle and would return to Glack on leave a handful of times in the year.
He did find out who his father was, a local man, although it was never made official.
In 1963, after a whirlwind five-month courtship, he married Iris (nee Cummings) and the couple travelled the world with Brendan’s work.
During the subsequent years, Brendan had minimal contact with his mother, who he says seemed to want it that way.
She spent her final years in Portrush, and Brendan and his sister Eileen were with her when she died.
After her death, Brendan and Eileen were shocked, however, to learn no-one in their mother’s life knew she had children.
“She should have worked for MI5 the secrets she kept,” says Brendan.
“Her friends believed she was a spinster with no family. Her carer wouldn’t believe we were her children.”
The shocks weren’t about to end there. A phone call from the Family Care Society in Belfast two years ago revealed their mother had another two children - Kathleen and Joan.
“It was a shock, and I suppose at the same time a bit of elation,” recalls straight-talking Brendan. “To be honest, although I was shocked I wasn’t entirely surprised. My mother had three children during that period, unmarried, so I suppose she was never going to win an award for her morals.”
The family discovered Bridget gave birth to Kathleen in 1949 and Joan in 1955, both in hospital in Coleraine. As newborns, they were put into Fahan Baby Unit. At a young age they were transferred to Nazareth House in Derry. Sadly, during their time there, the sisters, according to Joan, were allowed to spend just one hour with each other on birthdays and at Christmas. Kathleen left Nazareth House when she was 16 and went to work in the Nesbitt Arms Hotel in Ardara in Donegal but Brendan says, according to Joan, she was never told her sister had left. “She says the nuns never told her, but she remembers the last time she met Kathleen.
She said: “‘I’ll come back for you Joan’.”
In her later years, married with children and living in Enniscorthy in Wexford, Joan was curious about what happened to Kathleen.
She began an exhaustive search which, unexpectedly resulted in finding out she had three other siblings - Frances, Brendan and Eileen. Two years ago, after a painful and emotional process of exchanging letters and photos, Brendan and Eileen met Joan, whose married name is O’Toole.
“As soon as I saw Joan, and hugged her, I had contact. I cried sore, but I had this great feeling that I had found something that I had lost, something that was ours; just like a sister I hadn’t seen for years. It was very emotional.”
Three weeks later, Joan arrived in Limavady and stayed for a fortnight, eager to devour every single bit of information she could about their family. The siblings have a close bond today, Brendan and Joan especially. “We’re as close as a brother and sister can be, simple as that!” he says.
Brendan admits there is a degree of anger towards his mother for not telling him he had two sisters, but he also sees a positive in that he and Eileen have gained six nephews and nieces and a raft of grand-nieces and nephews, while Joan has gained a huge family circle. “Joan is like me. Her humour and sense of fun is identical to mine,” he says. “I am so happy for her because it gave her peace of mind. She can tell her kids where she is from, and that she has a family.” What’s missing to complete the family is Kathleen. She would be 63 today and, bar ill health or accident, they hope she is alive. All Brendan and his siblings know is after the job in Ardara in the summer of 1968, she returned to Nazareth House in Derry. They also have correspondence saying she may have spent time in Lancashire in the 1980s. “Joan and I are very keen to find her. Even if she doesn’t want anything to do with us, we want to know if she has a good life, what became of her and that she has a big family,” says Brendan.
“I think it would mean much more to Joan because she knew her. I am sure she must have wondered what happened to Joan.” Brendan hopes by sharing their story someone might be able to fill in the blanks and help them trace Kathleen.
“I was watching one of those programmes one night and the situation mirrored mine completely. The mother didn’t want her children, the children had family they never knew of and I just wondered, ‘when is my name going to come up?’” said Brendan. “What’s happened has definitely made me stronger. The way I see it is I could have ended up in Fahan View. I was lucky in a sense.”
While the tale is tinged with great sadness, Brendan says the discovery of Joan and another sister has “opened another chapter” and “spiced up my life”.
“I wasn’t involved in a search for a sister, but I found out I had two. It’s given me an aim in life to find Kathleen. It’s been a rollercoaster.” Hoping someone will be able to help, Brendan says: “I don’t think this is a long shot because Kathleen must be out there. She must wonder where she came from and what happened to Joan.”
Anyone who can help Brendan find Kathleen call 07516772864 or contact the Derry Journal on 028 71 272200 or email email@example.com