The publicity surrounding Hollywood actor Jane Russell and her adoption of an Irish baby angered the then government because it described Ireland as exporting babies to wealthy Americans who wanted children.
Russell was one of the world’s most famous artists when in November 1951 she adopted Thomas Kavanagh, a 15 month old born to Irish parents in London.
The adoption nearly sabotaged his career and led to allegations in the international press that Irish institutions were indeed selling babies to the highest bidder.
Tommys’ mother Florrie showed up at the Savoy Hotel in London after hearing that Russell was seeking to adopt an Irish child. Irish authorities became involved when Russell complained publicly that British law did not allow him to take the child out of Britain, which ended the practice in 1948.
Tommy was then given an Irish passport and visa and taken to the United States. The haste with which the Irish Embassy in London granted the child a passport has been widely condemned.
Although Tommy Kavanagh was not adopted from an Irish mother and baby at home, it has drawn unfavorable attention to them internationally.
According to the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Inquiry report, an article in Empire News stating that Canadian police believe they stumbled upon a group of crooks who were selling babies for up to 1,785 each with doctors and the lawyers involved. .
This raised concerns among officials at the Department of External Affairs (DEA), which later became the Foreign Office, that if babies were brought to the United States on Irish passports and sold to the highest bidder, they would be blamed.
In January 1952, an official at the Irish Embassy in London contacted the Dublin Department regarding the issuance of a passport for a child who had been placed with a US Army couple based in Britain. . The child was taken to the UK from Ireland without any travel documents and from there to the US.
A ministry official responded by stating that while Russells’ adoption papers were in order, that did not prevent us from getting into trouble.
The damage to Ireland’s reputation was such that the then Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, drafted new guidelines in the early 1950s. The church said it would no longer accept referrals individuals such as employers or family friends, but only Catholic charities and dioceses in the United States.
Would-be American parents were expected to swear by affidavit that they were Catholics, that they would raise their Catholic children and educate them in Catholic schools and universities.
The commission concluded that a tightening of foreign adoption laws was the result of bad press.
As the checks were carried out by the DEA through the Passport Office, they were largely carried out out of concern for the welfare of the children. Some of the measures taken were motivated by concerns about bad publicity, but they nevertheless promoted the well-being of children.
The Committee is aware of a number of surrender certificates signed by mothers abandoning their children for adoption.
One gave a mother and baby full custody and control of my child at home, with the power to place him in a family for legal adoption, whether out of anger or otherwise; and I agree and promise not to attempt to pick up my infant or cause him / her to leave any place where he / she may be found.
The commission found that of the 1,638 adopted in mother and baby facilities between 1922 and 1998, 1,427 children were adopted in the United States and 149 in Great Britain. Of those adoptions, 508, by far the most, were from Sean Ross Abbey in County Tipperary.
The most famous adoptee was Philomena Lees’ son Anthony, whom she was forced to give up for adoption in 1952 to the Hess family in the United States. Her story was told in the hit film Philomena released in 2013.
Michael Hess then served as chief legal counsel to the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations. He died of AIDS in 1995 before Ms. Lee could find him.
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