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Adopted son granted faculty to exhume remains of birth mother

24 April 2020

He wishes her remains to be reburied in a Roman Catholic churchyard in Ireland


AN ADOPTED son who had never met his mother after he was removed at birth for adoption was granted a faculty by the Consistory Court of Leicester for exhumation of her remains from consecrated ground in the Anglican section of a cemetery in England so that they could be reburied in a Roman Catholic churchyard in Ireland.

The petition for exhumation was brought on behalf of Paddy Cunningham, who is not in good health and lives in Ireland. His certificate of baptism showed that he was born on 16 November 1949, the son of Maria Madden, and that he was subsequently adopted.

Miss Madden was not married when Paddy Cunningham was born and never subsequently married or had any other children. She had a mother and a brother who were unhappy at the stigma of an unmarried woman giving birth. After she gave birth in a home for unmarried mothers in County Galway, her baby was removed for adoption. Her mother and brother refused to have anything to do with her and forced her to move to England. She arrived in Leicester and lived there until her death.

Mr Cunningham was duly adopted and the adoption was a success. He remained on his adoptive parents’ farm until they both died, and he still lives there. After the death of his adoptive parents, he began the task of seeking his birth mother, but no information was forthcoming from anyone. The home at which he was born had closed in the early 1960s.

Sometime around 2016, he received a telephone call from a woman in the United States whose elderly mother had been a friend of his mother and remembered something of her. The information that he was given in the phone calls enabled him to piece together something of his mother’s later life.

She had been sent to England shortly after giving birth, but returned to her home village in Ireland in the late 1950s looking for her son. She found a friend in the village to help her, but her brother found out. He took her to the railway station and left her there, telling her not to return and to stay in England. She never returned to Ireland.

She died in 1962, aged 43, in the Cheshire Home at Staunton Harold Hall in Leicestershire. The cause of death was “(a) exhaustion and (b) disseminated sclerosis”. The informant at the registration of her death was her brother Daniel Madden, who had come over from his home in Ireland which he gave as his address.

In Leicester, Miss Madden had made local friends, a Mr and Mrs John Thomas Newman, who paid for the plot in which she is buried in Saffron Hill cemetery. Mr and Mrs Newman are now dead and are buried close to Miss Madden. Their grandson, Michael Newman, assigned his ownership in Miss Madden’s grave plot to Mr Cunningham, who sought an order permitting exhumation and the reinterment of his mother’s remains in the churchyard of St Patrick’s, Glenamaddy, County Roscommon, where he intends to be buried in due course.

Mr Cunningham’s reasons for that were that Miss Madden had been a practising Roman Catholic, and it would have been her wish to be buried in an RC rather than an Anglican churchyard or cemetery; that she had come back to Ireland to try to find and be reunited with him, and, since he was her only child, she would have wanted to be buried with him on Irish soil; and that she had no relatives, and now no friends, in Leicester, and so her grave was untended.

He had paid for and prepared the grave in his local churchyard, which was consecrated ground, and he presented a letter from St Patrick’s Church stating that his mother would receive a Christian burial there if and when her body was returned.

Exhumation would be permitted only if the circumstances were regarded as exceptional so as to warrant departure from the norm of permanence in Christian burials. Chancellor Mark Blackett-Ord said that he did regard this case as exceptional for the reasons given by Mr Cunningham.

The Chancellor directed, however, that special notice be given of the petition to Miss Madden’s brother, Daniel, if he was still alive. It was theoretically possible (although unlikely) that he might have a view about the exhumation, which would affect the Chancellor’s decision.

It was, therefore, ordered that Mr Madden be given special notice by being sent a copy of the petition, the documents that had been put before the Chancellor, and a copy of the Chancellor’s judgment, to whatever address was known of him in addition to the address given on his sister’s death certificate.

If any communication was received from him other than a simple consent, the Chancellor would have to reconsider the matter. The faculty for exhumation was granted subject to the special notification to Mr Madden and a written assurance from the undertakers that all practical and legal obstacles had been dealt with for the removal of the body and its re-interment at Glenamaddy.

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